December 14, 2019
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Teacher contract talks break down in the aftermath of budget committee blast

Deborah McDermott | The York Weekly
Deborah McDermott | The York Weekly
A large crowd of parents and teachers fills a May meeting of the York School Committee in this York Weekly file photo. The committee's contract negotiations with the teachers' union have broken down, and the two sides are turning to a mediator.

YORK, Maine — Teacher contract negotiations between the School Committee and York Teachers Association is headed for mediation, after the sides failed to reach agreement on terms of a new contract.

The contract with the YTA ended Aug. 31; under its terms, the teachers will continue to be governed by the existing contract until a new one is signed.

The sides have met for a total of 22 executive sessions since last year, spending more than 60 hours in total, said School Committee Chairwoman Brenda Alexander. Following the Aug. 28 executive session, however, the negotiations ended with several issues still outstanding “and we were at a point that we have to bring in a mediator,” she said.

Alexander and YTA negotiator Williams True, a York High School teacher, declined to discuss even in broad brush strokes the reason talks broke down. All negotiations, according to Maine law, are confidential.

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“In general terms, there are some things we have agreed to but some remain open,” Alexander said.

Teachers showed up en masse at the School Committee’s Sept. 5 meeting, filling the library meeting room. No one spoke, however, and True declined to discuss their appearance.

In general terms, new teachers receive a “step” increase of 2 to 3 percent in addition to an increase in the cost of living adjustment (COLA). More experienced teachers, who make higher salaries, receive only COLA increases.

Under terms of the existing contract, veteran teachers who have worked 14 or more years received a 3.25 percent COLA increase in the first year of the contract, as compared to 2.25 percent for those receiving step increases. In years two and three, step teachers received a 3 percent raise and veteran teachers, 4 percent.

The contracted salary increases came under fire in talks with the Budget Committee during the early months of 2017. At one committee meeting in February that year, then-chairman Donald Lawton told the School Committee the contract was “one of the biggest problems with the whole school budget. It’s not a good way to do business and it’s driving increases that are just unreasonable.”

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Then-School Committee chairwoman Julie Eneman sought to stop the discussion, saying “We have an obligation to enter into negotiations in good faith and I want to make sure we’re honoring that.”

Alexander agreed. “We can’t take the directive of the Budget Committee into the negotiations. That’s the rub Julie had last year. You have to bargain in good faith.”

Superintendent of Schools Lou Goscinski and Alexander said they did not know when the mediation session would begin.

“Right now, we’re at the mercy of the mediator,” Goscinski said, adding mediation sessions typically cost each side $500 per session, and the sessions typically last three hours. The hope is that there will be some resolution by October.

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