Bangor school teachers were hopeful they would have a chance to voice their concerns about ongoing contract negotiations at Wednesday night’s school committee meeting, but they ended up walking out after they were denied a chance to speak.
At a standing-room only meeting, teachers gathered to show their support for a petition calling for larger salary increases and what they said was a more manageable work-life balance. More than 70 percent of the city’s teachers had signed the petition after months of contract negotiations had not assuaged their concerns.
Mary Snow School teacher Heather Bendure planned to read the petition to committee members and the public, but Chairwoman Susan Hawes stopped her, citing an agreement between the school committee and the teachers’ association to avoid discussing negotiations in public.
“Because there is an agreement between the school committee and the Bangor Education Association that negotiations will not be conducted in public, discussion of the negotiation at this meeting would be a potential violation of the collective bargaining agreement law,” Hawes said.
She said the school committee is “optimistic” it can reach an agreement with teachers “that allows the Bangor School Department to remain focused on the best interest of the students and providing a high-quality education at an affordable price.”
Teachers then walked out of the meeting.
“Clearly, that was a statement that they made to the public, yet we weren’t able to,” Cyndy Fish, the chief negotiator for the teachers’ association and a special education teacher at Abraham Lincoln School, told a group of teachers congregated in the hallway outside the meeting at Bangor City Hall.
“It’s discouraging that we weren’t listened to,” she said. “That’s one of our concerns. We feel like we’re shut down all the time.”
School committee member John Hiatt later said he would have liked to hear the petition read at the meeting.
“As a member of the Bangor School Committee I have the utmost respect for the teachers,” he said. “I would like to have listened and asked questions of the speakers.”
Bendure said the teachers started negotiating with the school system, seeking a contract with better terms, a month before their last contract ended in August 2018. But after months of negotiations without an agreement, the parties jointly hired a mediator in January. They met with the mediator last month and plan to do so again Tuesday.
Bendure said the petition highlights the concerns teachers have raised during negotiations about the amount of work teachers have to do outside the classroom, their use of personal days and salary levels.
“Over the last few contract cycles, Bangor teachers feel like they’ve been asked to do a lot outside the classroom,” she said. “We have before- and after-school meetings and events that take place in the evening that we’re required to come back to.”
Bendure said administrators sometimes haven’t allowed teachers to use their two personal days each year to attend family events, such as their children’s school performances and sporting events.
And with salaries, Bendure said, teachers have seen an average annual increase of 1.5 percent over the past 11 years. The salaries do not reflect the additional work teachers have to do beyond teaching hours, she said, which has been steadily increasing.
The association decided to present these concerns during the time reserved for public comment at the school committee meeting, Bendure said, because the public likely was unaware of them.
“I believe that the public will support the teachers,” Fish said. “I think they’ll be saddened by the fact that we weren’t given a voice today.”