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South Portland teachers contract recognizes domestic partners

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South Portland teachers contract recognizes domestic partners

SOUTH PORTLAND — A teachers contract approved last week by the School Board will expand benefits to domestic partners and add a day to the 2011-2012 school year.

The two-year contract will not give teachers raises next year, but will provide salary increases the second year.

Superintendent Suzanne Godin said this is the first time teacher salaries will be tied to the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation. She said the agreement provides it will not lead to raises of less than 1 percent or greater that 2.5 percent.

School Business Manager Polly Ward said the district expects to pay nearly $15.76 million in regular teacher salaries. That means labor costs to the district in the second year of the contract could range from $156,000 to $395,000.

School and union leaders said they are pleased with the contract, which was ironed out over four meetings. They said it is fair and responsible, given current economic conditions.

Tom Major, president of the South Portland Teacher's Association, which represents more than 300 classroom teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, librarians, music personnel, special education staff and other specialists, said discussions with the district were amicable. 

Major said the union understands the need to hold the line on salaries next year and seek a limited raise the following year.

"I think all the negotiators knew that these are tough years, during which the citizens of South Portland can't afford to be as generous as they might like," Major said in an e-mailed statement.

"This is the first time this school district has tied an increase to the CPI," he continued. "I think right now this is understandable, since the district has been forced to cut so much money from the budget, though it is not an appropriate formulation to use on an ongoing basis."

As of May, the CPI was 2.2 percent.

The contract will also extend health benefits to domestic partners. Godin said that several school districts are now considering recognizing domestic partnerships and it seemed appropriate in South Portland, given the community's overwhelming support to the same sex marriage last November.

"I don't think we're blazing trails," Godin said. "This is a recognition that, if this had passed last November on the statewide ballot, everybody would be doing this. The state referendum vote was held pretty highly in South Portland."

Major said the change was proposed by the union, but it's unclear how many employees will benefit.

"I don't know if anyone in the district right now qualifies," he said. "But the fairness of the provision was important to us."

Other contract changes include allowing teachers five paid days off following the adoption or birth of a child.

There are two other union contracts that will expire this summer.

Godin said the district is negotiating with support staff, which includes clerks and educational technicians. After a contract is reached with that group, she said negotiations will begin with service employees.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net