AUBURN — School officials have canceled all school open houses this fall after the teachers’ union informed them that, to protest their lack of a contract, no teachers would attend. 

The school system and the union have been fighting over a new contract since fall 2007, with health insurance the most contentious issue. The last contract expired in August 2008. After three failed mediation sessions, the two sides will go to fact-finding this fall in an attempt to break their impasse.

Since teachers are public employees and are not allowed to strike, the Auburn Education Association said it has only one way to show its frustration with negotiations: by doing only what the contract says, and nothing extra. 

Union President Timothy Wegmann said attending an after-school open house is something extra. “It’s not a choice we want to make, but we feel we’ve been backed into a corner,” he said. 

Open house attendance is not specifically listed as a required duty in the contract, but Superintendent Tom Morrill said it’s been an established and expected part of teachers’ jobs for years. In a letter to Wegmann, Morrill said he would not file a grievance with the
Maine Labor Relations Board because he didn’t want to spend scarce
public money on a legal battle, but he reserved the right to take legal
action as necessary in the future.

“It’s just very disappointing that they took that specific job action,” Morrill said.

He said open houses are a good way for parents to meet their children’s teachers, for children to share their school with their family and for teachers to talk with families about homework, policies and classroom expectations. Although the school system will try to work around the loss of its open houses, Morrill called the union’s refusal to attend open house “an unnecessary and disruptive barrier.”

“In my view it does harm,” he said.  

Wegmann said teachers would continue to provide a quality education to their students. He said open houses likely wouldn’t be the only event teachers would refuse to attend this year if negotiations didn’t improve. Although he could not offer specifics, he said, “Things will be cut out.”

Teachers routinely volunteer to chaperon school dances, attend school celebrations and oversee clubs, even though those duties aren’t required in their contract.

Coaches and some other club advisers get paid for their work. Their duties are not extra and could not be cut.

Auburn school open houses are typically held just before or just after the new school year begins. In lieu of open houses, Morrill said parents should feel free to arrange a meeting with their child’s teachers or to contact them by phone, e-mail or letter. He said teachers would also send home information that parents should read. They can contact the teacher if they have questions. 

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