LEWISTON — In a just-approved, three-year labor contract, Lewiston's 434 teachers will get, on average, a 2.8 percent raise this year at a cost of $540,000 to taxpayers.
The money for raises is covered in the existing budget, Superintendent Bill Webster said. "We made a provision in the budget for the expectation on what we would do," he said. The average teacher salary in Lewiston is $45,900.
After the union and administration agreed existing pay was too little for teachers with between three and 12 years of experience, both sides agreed to give that group larger raises of 2.8 percent to 5 percent. Teachers at the top of the pay scale will get smaller raises, 1.5 to 1.8 percent, Webster said.
“The size of raises will depend where teachers are experience-wise,” Stephen Belleau, co-vice president of the Lewiston Education Association, said.
Last year, 15 teachers with 3 to 12 years of experience left Lewiston for jobs with better pay. In the old contact “those wages haven't kept up with surrounding communities,” Belleau said. In the new contract “the problems aren't fixed, but they're better.”
The starting pay for teachers in Lewiston is $32,782. Teachers with three years experience earn $33,638, "just $900 more,” Webster said. In the new contract, that teacher will earn $34,638 this year. Prior to the new contract, a Lewiston teacher with 12 years experience earned $5,000 less than they would in Auburn, Webster said.
"Both sides recognized we were falling behind other area districts,” Webster said. Teachers with between 3 to 12 years "tend to be dynamic, enthusiastic teachers," Webster said. They're more youthful, somewhat recent from graduating from college, but their youth is tempered with classroom experience. "Those are the teachers who represent the future.”
Lewiston wastes money when it hires new teachers, spends money to train them, “then they go elsewhere, to Auburn or Lisbon,” Webster said. Teachers at the top of the scale are compensated reasonably well, “but those in the middle are sorely lacking.”
The contract was approved by the School Committee on Monday night, and approved by 99 percent vote from teachers Nov. 29, Belleau said.
Teachers are “very happy” with the contract, said Belleau, who teaches at Geiger. “It will do a lot to improve teacher morale. That will then turn over to improvements in the classroom.”
Lewiston teachers have gone without raises in recent years, he said. In the last contract there was a small raise in the first year, “but salaries were frozen for a couple of years.”
In the same time “there has been a lot of responsibilities added to teachers' plates because of changes in society and education,” Belleau said.
In years two and three of the contract, depending on how many teachers stay or leave, teachers will get, on average, nearly a 3 percent raise, Webster said. Depending on how teachers react to contract changes, year two could cost an additional $600,000, and year three $700,000, Webster said.
Both Belleau and Webster praised a new style of negotiations this year. Instead of the union asking for wages and benefits that were too high, and administration starting too low, school officials and union worked together to solve problems, both said.
“We took a look at the issues and concerns on both sides and tried to figure out how to work together for what's best for the community,” Belleau said.
Health care benefits remained the same, with taxpayers paying 80 percent of premiums and teachers paying 20 percent.
Other changes in the contract are hoped to better reward teachers effective in the classroom.
Teachers who become nationally certified will get an annual stipend of $3,000 instead of the current $1,000. Meanwhile, higher pay scales for teachers with education levels beyond a master's degree were eliminated.
Becoming nationally certified is hard work, and it's proof that a teacher is effective with students, Webster said. So far Lewiston has three teachers who are nationally certified.
But research does not show a teacher with degrees beyond a master's are more effective. “A degree on the wall may or may not help students,” Webster said. And taxpayers pay for teachers to get advanced degrees, he said. “We spend a healthy amount, six figures, for course reimbursement.”
The contract also will reward retiring teachers who give earlier notices that they're leaving. Often the school department finds out in May, June or July which teachers are retiring. Typically 15 to 20 teachers retire a year, Webster said.
Teachers who give notice they're retiring by March 1 will get a $500 bonus. The earlier notice will provide more time to hire the best candidates, “to recruiting on college campuses.”
Year one of the contract will be retroactive to the beginning of this school year, or late August.