Teachers reach agreement in Oxford Hills

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OXFORD — The Oxford Hills School District Board of Directors has reached a two-year contract with the Oxford Hills Education Association that reduces the teachers’ contractual days by two and establishes a salary freeze for two years with some step increases.

“We felt given the economic climate that we negotiated the best contract we could,” said Education Association President Jim Thornton, who teaches at Waterford Memorial School.

According to the terms of the new contract, the base salary for the approximately 300 teachers has been frozen for the next two years, but teachers will still receive a step increase according to the provisions of the teacher salary schedule.

School Board Director Curtis Cole of Paris, who acted as chairman of the negotiation committee, said the agreement to reduce the teachers’ work schedule by two days actually reduces the salary of teachers who have 20-plus years of experience because the step schedule does not allow for a step increase at that level.

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To address the situation, during the 24 hours of negotiations the Board of Directors agreed to provide a one-time step increase during each of the two years of the contract to those teachers who have served 20 or more years.

Thornton said the association was concerned that the burden of budget cutbacks would fall unfairly on teachers at the top of the scale. Because of the money the association felt it was giving back with the cutback in working days, Thornton said the association felt “we needed to do something.”

While the association agreed to a salary freeze, they did so with the understanding that the teachers at the top end of the step scale would see a small increase in their salaries in addition to the step increases for the other teachers.

The teachers salary step scale is based on years in service and educational attainment and starts at about $28,000 for a starting teacher with a bachelor’s degree and runs to the longest serving teachers with master’s plus 30 credits at a top $54,476.

According to the terms of the new contract and based on a 180-day school year, teachers with 20 years experience will receive an additional $556 if they have a bachelor’s degree, $581 if they hold a master’s degree and $560 if they have a master’s degree plus 30 credits. The second year of the contract will provide increases for teachers with 20 or more years from $856 to $905 that year, depending on educational degrees.

School Superintendent Mark Eastman said that there are currently about 100 teachers who are at the top or near the top of salary scale. About one-half of those 100 or so teachers are eligible for retirement next year, said Eastman. It is not known at this time how many of the eligible teachers will put in for retirement.

The association has agreed to reopen the contract for negotiating a modification of the existing salary schedule if the school district’s local share of general purpose aid exceeds $19,394,577. Thornton said he hopes the community understands that the salary increases are “quite small” compared to the amount of additional work they will take on next year with a reduced staff.

Cole said the directors looked at doing away with the “upward motion” in the teacher salary step schedule but were advised by the school’s attorney and others that it can’t be done easily. Almost all teacher contracts across the state have step schedules.

As a result of the contract, the overall salary line item is about $900,000 less than last year, Eastman said. The reduction is due to the salary freeze, the recent staff cuts and reduction in teacher working days from 181 to 180 for the next two school years. The move does not affect student days in school, currently 175.

“No one likes to use the word furlough, but it’s a reduction in two days they will be paid,” Eastman said Wednesday of the contract settlement.

Thornton said another important aspect of the contract for the teachers was the move to an interest-based bargaining model that the teachers’ association hopes to use as part of problem-solving at each building beginning next school year. “We’re encouraged by that,” he said.

The same method has been successfully used for the past two contract negotiations.

The Oxford Hills School District Board of Directors has already unanimously approved a $34.2 million budget for the next fiscal year, which is an almost $2.3 million reduction from the previous fiscal year.

The proposed budget, which still needs voter approval in June, reduced staffing by 36 positions, including eight elementary education teachers, two elementary Spanish teachers, one position each in the elementary art, physical education and music programs, an industrial arts position, gifted and talented position, half a high school science teacher, two middle school English/language arts positions, a high school foreign language position and others.

Twenty-one of the 36 position cuts will be done through attrition.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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