2016-10-28 / Front Page

Education contract approval explained

Financial impact of new contract, which runs through 2019, was not presented at Oct. 6 meeting
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The Scarborough Board of Education received some flack from Puritan Drive resident Larry Hartwell earlier this month for approving the new contract with the Scarborough Education Association before presenting to the public the financial impact of the contract, which runs through 2019.

Scarborough Education Association is the bargaining unit that represents teachers, academic support professionals, nurses, librarians, therapists, education technicians and guidance workers.

Although the financial impact was not presented Oct. 6 when board members made the decision to accept the latest teacher contract, vice chairman Kelly Murphy said the board did have all the information needed to make the decision.

Murphy said when the school board enters into negotiations, they meet as a full board in executive session to talk about financial parameters and goals of the contract and stay apprised to how negotiations are progressing.

“We absolutely know what’s in the contract and what it costs,” Murphy said.

Board member Jackie Perry, who chairs the negotiations committee, said she had that information, but was asked by Superintendent Julie Kukenberger to hold off on presenting that because she wanted to analyze the data and make a presentation on the contract’s impact on the budget.

Kukenberger, who was hired in July, said not presenting that information the day the contract was approved was a “rookie mistake.”

That presentation took place last week when Kukenberger discussed the impact of the contract and why it is important for the students and community members.

The goal of the contract was to better compensate teachers to entice them to stay with the district and not be lured to other districts where compensation may be greater. In that vein, the contract has a 0.5 percent cost of living increase in 2016-2017, 1 percent in 2017-2018 and 1.5 percent in 2018-2019, as well as updated step increases and salary tables. It still requires employees pay 20 percent of their health benefits.

The new contract, which has six additional hours of professional develop built into it, will mean a $1.4 million increase from the expiring contract to the new one for 2016-2017, $2.4 million increase for 2017-2018 and a $3.5 million increase for 2018-2019.

It also makes Scarborough’s compensation more competitive with other comparable school districts, which include Falmouth, South Portland, Yarmouth and RSU 21 (Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport). Kate Bolton, the school district’s director of business operations, said those districts were chosen for comparison based on population, valuation, size of the district and amenities offered in those communities. For years Scarborough’s compensation had lagged behind those other districts.

That financial impact, Kukenberger said, is just projected. It very well could change as new staff members are hired due to position turnover.

Board member Jodi Shea said the district is “getting a good deal” with the new contract.

Kukenberger said quality teachers are critical to improving student achievement.

“It’s not the programs. It’s not about stuff. It’s about teachers. They are the ones that are really going to ensure our students are prepared for the future,” Kukenberger said.

Kukenberger said the education industry has changed “dramatically” over the last five to 10 years with the shift to educating the whole child and not simply preparing for a test at the end of the year.

“For many of our teachers, the job they signed up for 40 years ago does not exist now,” Kukenberger said.

Demand for teachers increase, but the supply has not been able to meet the demand. Kukenberger said fewer and fewer students are pursuing teaching careers. In 2016, only 4 percent of college students are majoring in education, an all-time low in the past 45 years. Furthermore, 30 percent of those that do become teachers do not last the first five years, partially because their compensation and what is being asked of them are out of balance.

Others leave much later, after getting burned out. The turnover rate in Scarborough between last school year and this school year, Kukenberger said, is 5.6 percent due to three retirements and 17 others leaving for other school districts, careers or other reasons.

More than a third of the 310 teachers, academic support, nurses, librarians, therapists, education technicians and guidance counselors employed in Scarborough have been in the profession for 16 to 23 years, with 16 percent having 24 to 30 years of experience and 8 percent having more than 31 years in education.

All this experience, Kukenberger said, is good for students, but also means the district needs to be mindful of where these individuals are in their career and where they may be going in the future.

Kukenberger said having effective teachers, where long tenured or not, is critically important because they spend more time with students than some students do with their own parents or guardians.

“The one thing I hope you learn from the contract,” she told the audience, which included members of the community and several Scarborough teachers, “is our teachers are worth every single penny.”

Board member Kate Miles said if she had it her way “teaching would be the highest paid industry” because of the importance it plays in educating our younger generation.

Murphy, a member of the board’s negotiations committee, said if the district is serious about investing in the future like it intends to, it needs to invest in the teachers and other educators.

“The future of our country depends on these people,” Kukenberger said.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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