Teachers have been working without a contract since September 2001.

JAY – School Superintendent Stephen Cottrell suggested when he was hired in 2000 that school negotiators hire a professional negotiator to help level the playing field during contract negotiations.

Cottrell said Tuesday that School Committee members and he agreed back then that his role would not be at the negotiating table but as a go-between for staff and committee members. As far as he knows, Cottrell said, members of the School Committee and the superintendent negotiated previous contracts while the Jay Education Association, the teachers’ union, had representation from the Maine Education Association.

“I recommended the school board employ a chief negotiator so there would be a level playing field,” Cottrell said.

JEA members voted “no confidence” in both Cottrell and School Committee members last week. Among the union’s concerns were declining morale in the school staff and lack of support from administration and School Committee members.

Teachers have been negotiating with school negotiators since September 2001 and have been working without a new contract since last September. Out of 99 votes cast, three staff members opposed the “no confidence vote” on the School Committee and less than a quarter opposed the “no confidence vote” on Cottrell, JEA President Sherry Gilbert said.

Cottrell said he considers a “no confidence” vote during negotiations “fairly typical when the process slows down or stalls.”

“Personally, it gave me cause for introspection to look at how I’m doing things. I believe I treat people fairly and with respect and I understand the Jay Education Association’s position of no confidence,” he said, due to the drawn out process.

“I would hope that the JEA president would also be introspective,” he said.

Gilbert said, “We as an organization have been very thought provoking on everything we’ve done.”

JEA members wondered where the guidance from administration is, she said, and they wondered what they could do as an organization to keep things positive in the school system.

Cottrell said he has kept his routine the same since the negative vote.

“I have not changed my approach to the daily visits to the buildings and have received considerable verbal support from staff,” he said. “I do feel I’m doing the right thing relative to negotiations. Negotiations is a process and we will eventually have a contract.”

Cottrell said when he became superintendent in August of 2000, the Jay Education Technician Association had just finished contract negotiations. At the final meeting, the association was represented by a negotiator from the MEA while the school board negotiated on its own, he said.

“It was clear to me as a new superintendent two things needed to happen,” he said.

First, all negotiated contracts needed to be reviewed by school’s legal counsel because each contract had its own language.

“Once that was done, I recommended to the board that they employ a chief negotiator on their behalf since four contracts were up for negotiation,” Cottrell said. “I wanted to make it fair for everybody.”

“The school board and I agreed my role would not be at the table but as an intermediary,” Cottrell said. Both bargaining teams from the School Committee and JEA have chief negotiators and have followed the process. Taxpayers have paid in excess of $22,000 for the school’s negotiator just for negotiating with the JEA.

“We have settled with some bargaining groups and making progress with others,” Cottrell said. The board settled contracts with secretaries and administrators. It is beginning negotiations with education technicians and has a new group, cafeteria staff to negotiate with. The teachers’ union and bus driver/custodian union negotiations’ are still unsettled.

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