Portland teachers contract freezes salaries in 1st year

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PORTLAND — The School Board unanimously agreed to a new two-year contract with city teachers on Dec. 16.

The agreement freezes salaries in the first year and provides a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in the second year.

The contract also includes more instructional time for students and more professional learning time for teachers.

Members of the Portland Education Association approved the contract Dec. 15. It covers the period through Aug. 31, 2016.

Besides freezing salaries and step increases in year one, and the cost-of-living increase in year two, the agreement caps the School Department’s share of any increase in health insurance premiums at 3 percent in the second year.

“Last year insurance premiums only went up 2.5 percent. The year before they went up 8 percent,” School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said. She said the new cap is generous, and a good example of compromise and “realizing we have to be careful with our expenses.”

Also beginning in the second year, students will get 100 additional minutes of instructional time each week, and teachers will receive three hours of additional learning and development time each week.

That means teacher work days will be one hour longer, for a total of 7 1/2 half hours each day, but the overall number of work days teachers spend in school will drop from 187 to 183. Thompson said two of those days are removing summer in-service work requirements.

“It doesn’t take away from the kids,” she said.

Additionally, the number of days students will be in school will drop from 180 to 178. But they will gain 46 additional hours of school each year, a 4 percent bump from the current year.

The state requirement is that students be in school for at least 175 days.

Thompson said the negotiation process was collaborative. Both sides brought things to the table, she said, but were willing to make compromises.

“When you’re trying to make freezes in salary and caps on insurance and increasing student time, I think there’s always some discussions that go back and forth,” she said.

In addition to the teacher contracts, this year three other contracts were up for renewal. Thompson said the board settled the education technician contract six months ago, but still has to deal with contracts for administrators and employees like bus drivers and secretaries.

Thompson said this was also the first time a consultant was used for negotiations. Drummond Woodsum, a Portland-based law firm, provided representation, which Thompson said was helpful since “the board and the administrators were not expert negotiators.”

“We know the financial picture, we know what we can and can’t afford, but having somebody look at our contract from beginning to end was very helpful,” she said. “But it was a different way than we’d done in the past.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Home cooking to continue for Cliff Island students

PORTLAND — The School Board will submit an application to continue exempting the Cliff Island Elementary School from participation in the School Meal Programs until 2018.

The National School Lunch Program and National School Breakfast Program are both operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In order to apply for exemption, schools must hold a public hearing, report to the Board of Education and file for exemption every four years with the USDA through the Maine Department of Education’s Nutrition Office. The public hearing was held Nov. 19.

The Cliff Island Elementary School is a one-room school house with five students and one teacher. The students have historically gone home for lunch. This, along with the school not having a kitchen and the island being a 45-minute ferry ride from mainland Portland, are the major reasons for the exemption.

School Board Chairwoman Sarah Thompson said the school has historically filed for the exemptions, since it doesn’t make sense logistically to provide the service.

Portland Public Schools Food Services currently provides meals to Peaks Island Elementary School and Long Island Elementary School by ferrying cold meals that are warmed in the respective school’s kitchen.

— Colin Ellis

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.