Community members have been participating in the unfolding discord at Regional School Unit 9 by signing petitions stating they have no confidence in Superintendent Tina Meserve’s leadership. On Sunday, November 8, community members also posted signs at district schools showing their support for teachers currently working without a contract. Photo courtesy of Parents and Community Members of RSU 9 Facebook Group

FARMINGTON — The Mt. Blue Education Association released a response on Friday, Nov. 13, to the Regional School Unit 9 board’s Nov. 10, public statement addressing the no-confidence vote in Superintendent Tina Meserve and ongoing teacher contract negotiations.

The association said the board misled the public by incorrectly stating proposed increases to teacher salaries.

“The School Board has shared incorrect information on the salary proposal, erroneously stating that raises it is offering would be as high as 4.25%,” the response said. “This is NOT TRUE. The actual overall percentages being offered are much lower, and, in fact, never reach 4%, even in the final year. The factual raise numbers are: 2.3% this year, 3.58% the second year, and 2.56% in the third year.”

According to RSU 9’s public statement, the board proposed a 4.25% raise to salaries this year, a 3.62% raise next year and a 2.56% raise in 2022.

“This represents an increase of 10.78% (or more than $1.1 million) over the next three years,” the board’s statement said. “We aim to move our salaries and benefits closer to the average salaries and benefits in our region, and we believe that our proposals move this ball forward.”

Association President Doug Hodum said the inaccuracy in proposed increases is due to the fact that the board is basing their percentages on last year’s staff member salaries.

“The district is using last year’s staffing,” he said in a phone interview on Friday. “Our proposal includes a current estimate for staffing. So for instance, we’ve put all new hires in at step five on the scale, but they really may only be at step two or step three. So the discrepancy is, the district is continuing to use last year’s staff even though we know some of those people have left the district for retirement or moved on, and our proposal includes estimated salaries for staff that we have now.”

Steps are correlated to the number of years a person has in teaching experience, which also contributes to the amount and rate in which an individual receives a salary increase. Hodum said many of RSU 9’s new hires have fewer than six years of experience.

According to the 2019 Maine Education Association’s salary guide, RSU 9 pays a step one teacher with a bachelor’s degree $34,900, and a step 10 teacher with a bachelor’s makes $40,451. With a master’s degree, a step one teacher will start at $36,900 with the opportunity to make $42,466 after ten years of experience.

Superintendent Meserve and Chairperson Angela LeClair have not provided a response yet to the association’s claim of a discrepancy in proposed teacher salary increases.

The board’s public statement acknowledged the need for raising teacher salaries so RSU 9 has more competitive wages compared to other districts. Declining enrollment, an anticipated loss in state funding and the inability of the district’s towns to shoulder an increase in taxes were among the board’s reasons for RSU 9’s low salaries.

RSU 9 teacher contract negotiations, which began in January, were disrupted during the start of the pandemic, and resumed over the late spring and summer. Teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31. 

In regards to Meserve’s leadership, the board reiterated its commitment to the superintendent and to resolving communication issues between the staff, the board and Meserve.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, options for conflict resolution approaches were considered for mitigating issues raised by the no-confidence vote.

Hodum said the Mt. Blue Education Association is not interested in pursuing conflict resolution options at this time based on the high percentage of staff members who voted against Meserve’s leadership. He iterated that the vote reflected not only union members, but 166 nonunion staff members as well.

“There was an initial conversation when the board released their statement regarding their continued support for the superintendent,” Hodum said in regards to the conflict resolution approach. “We feel as though that is largely a non-starter for us considering the fact that the staff does not have confidence in Meserve’s ability to lead this district.”

Community members have also engaged in the voting of no-confidence in Superintendent Meserve by signing petitions, scattered across Franklin County at local businesses, organized by Citizens for Common Sense Education (CCSE). Petition locations are listed on the public group Facebook page Parents and Community Members of RSU 9.

CCSE is compromised of community members who meet regularly to discuss school-related issues.

“Our concern is for the kids, the tax dollar doesn’t even enter into this thing. It’s for the kids, it’s education for the kids, it’s our future,” CCSE member Robert Millay said, in a phone interview on Friday.

Millay said that he is still circulating throughout petition locations to add up the number of signatures, but anticipates that they have surpassed the 350 mark.

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