Freeport, Pownal, Durham go back to school without consolidated teacher contract

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FREEPORT — While Regional School Unit 5 is finally beginning to reap the benefits of district consolidation, teachers in Freeport, Durham and Pownal are all starting the year without a consolidated contract.

Superintendent of Schools Shannon Welsh said teachers are starting to unify under one system across the district, especially in services, programs and professional development.

But the district still does not have a consolidated contract for all its teachers. Teachers from each town will continue to have three separate contracts, although they have negotiated a 1.7 percent wage increase.

Welsh said the increase, which was ratified by the School Board Aug. 24 and is expected to be ratified by the teachers Aug. 31, is retroactive to the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

The new deal also provides teachers three additional paid non-classroom professional days, which will increase the district’s expenditures by approximately $150,000. That amount was approved earlier this year in the budget, in anticipation of the contract extension.

Welsh said the district is continuing to work on creating a consolidated contract. She said she is hopeful it will happen soon.

“It’s a lengthy process,” she said. “We negotiated for over a year and still had no contract.”

But, she said, extending the individual town contracts will provide the district the breathing room it needs to continue to work toward a consolidated contract for all teachers.

Also this summer, educators from all three communities participated in training sessions, where they talked about student expectations, identified targets for academic performance, discussed how to meet students’ needs by working together and how to better provide support across the district.

“It is not about a single teacher in Pownal working on his or her own,” Welsh said. “It’s having colleagues you can work with, and that is one of the greatest benefits we’ve seen.”

Due to a large number of retirements, students can expect to meet 17 new teachers in the schools this year. Welsh said she reviewed nearly 150 applicants for positions throughout the district and filled openings with teachers who have up to 12 years of experience.

Welsh said the middle school sports program has also been revived, so that students interested in participating in sports that have fewer participants – such as in cheering, field hockey or lacrosse – will be provided with transportation to join other students in Freeport or Durham. She said the district is saving money by avoiding additional coaching or officials fees and students would ride on buses already traveling to those locations.

Although the $3 million high school track project was voted down in a June referendum, Welsh said a fields committee will continue fundraising throughout the year. She said over the next year the committee will analyze how the Hunter Road ball fields and the Seacoast United turf fields will affect RSU 5 field needs.

A facilities committee is also working to include enrollment figures and program analysis for the next five to 10 years.

“Overall, there is no significant turmoil because we have a good strong foundation,” Welsh said about the upcoming school year. “We’ve kept taxes flat, we’ve got good programs in place, good people in place and we are simply working at getting even better at what we do.”

Classes begin Sept. 6 for students in kindergarten through grade 9, Sept. 7 for those in grades 10-12, and Sept. 8 for pre-kindergarten children.

Emily Parkhurst contributed to this story. Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @amy_k_anderson.

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