Due to the recent social media campaign by the Auburn Education Association, the Auburn School Committee feels compelled to fully inform the community regarding the ongoing teacher contract issues.

Although labor negotiations are usually conducted in executive session and the School Committee has, to date, respected that process, negotiations have lasted more than a year. The Committee believes that the school community should know where the Committee stands on the few remaining issues.

From the start of the negotiations process, the Committee’s goals were; (1) to make sure the language of the contract treats teachers as the professionals they are; (2) negotiate a compensation and benefits package that increases teacher salaries and remains affordable for the taxpayers of Auburn; (3) to ensure that the successor contract is in full compliance with state law; and (4) to ensure that the language in the contract is clear and that it is consistent with the department’s mission of providing an excellent education to our students.

The Committee has been guided by those goals throughout the negotiations process.

The Committee and teachers’ union met on numerous occasions and worked with a mediator in an effort to settle a contract. The parties came close to reaching a deal in September of 2015 but were not able to resolve a few remaining issues.

Included among the outstanding issues are changes that are needed to the language concerning teacher layoffs to bring that language into compliance with state law. State law has changed and will require teacher performance be included among the criteria that must be considered should a staff layoff becomes necessary. The Committee believes that it makes educational sense for performance to be included among the layoff criteria as it does not want to lose a highly effective teacher simply because that teacher may have less seniority than another teacher.

The Committee also wishes to clarify that language in the contract regarding teacher instructional load is not subject to the grievance procedure, and that changes to teacher load are instead subject to a meet-and-consult process, if requested by the union. The Maine Supreme Court recently affirmed that matters of educational policy, such as teacher load, may not be negotiated and are not enforceable through a collective bargaining agreement’s grievance process.

The Committee feels it is vitally important it preserves its statutory right to make changes that are in the best interest of our students. Furthermore, the Committee does not wish to enter into a new agreement which contains language that will provide a false expectation to our staff that they will be able to grieve the language relating to teacher/department head load.

Additionally, the Committee has asked the union to hear our concerns regarding the amount of taxpayer money the Committee pays as a retirement benefit.

Although the Committee is not wedded to any particular solution on this issue, it does wish to have a frank discussion with the union about rising teacher retirement costs. It is our sincere hope that, together, the Committee and the union can find the right balance between maximizing the taxpayer funds that stay in the school system for the benefit of students, those working directly with students and thanking retiring teachers for the years they have devoted to the School Department.

In early January, the Committee requested that the Maine Labor Relations Board help the parties resolve their dispute by assigning a fact-finding panel. The union filed a motion to dismiss our dispute resolution request. The union’s motion will be heard by the Maine Labor Relations Board in the coming weeks.

The union and the Committee have filed unfair labor practice charges against one another as reported earlier in the Sun Journal. The two charges of “bad faith bargaining” will be heard by the Maine Labor Relations Board at some point during the next several months. At the current time, there is no date scheduled for this hearing.

We want to assure the entire school community that the Committee sought to avoid a time-consuming battle at the Maine Labor Relations Board. We have made clear to the union that we prefer to reach a mutual resolution of the outstanding issues and tried hard to encourage the union to sit down with us in a genuine effort to bring negotiations to a close.

We also want the school community to know that, while this labor dispute continues, the teachers’ salaries, their benefits, and their right to protection from improper disciplinary action has not and will not change. The Committee is not allowed to change the existing terms and conditions of employment and would not do so without working with the union in any event, which, in a nutshell, is the whole purpose of negotiations.

Finally, we want to encourage anyone who wants to see an end to the labor dispute to encourage the leaders of the teachers’ union to sit down with the Committee’s negotiations team or to participate in the dispute resolution process defined in state law to resolve the few remaining issues on the bargaining table.

Thomas Kendall, chairman, Auburn School Committee, and signed by the entire School Committee.

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