RSU 1 goes back to school with new teachers contract

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BATH — With the start of the new school year less than two weeks away, Regional School Unit 1 has reached agreement on a long-awaited new contract with its teachers.

The School Board and Sagadahoc Education Association reached the settlement Wednesday, after working from morning to evening. The contract is retroactive to Sept. 1, 2009, and expires Aug. 31, 2012, although for West Bath employees, whose current contract expires at the end of this month,  it runs only two years.

RSU 1 Superintendent William Shuttleworth said Wednesday that he expects both sides to ratify the pact by the end of the month.

“We’re proud that we were able to complete the first unified contract of any RSU in the state of Maine,” he said.

David Cowie, co-president of the Sagadahoc Education Association, said Thursday that “everyone is looking forward to an amenable conclusion to this long impasse. … Hopefully we can start developing better communications about the needs that teachers have as professionals and administration has in terms of making the system work.”

Negotiations have spanned the past year. Teachers in Bath, Phippsburg and Woolwich have been working under terms of the previous contract, which expired Aug. 31, 2009.

The contract provides for an average pay raise of about 4 percent for the retroactive first year, for those communities whose contracts expired a year ago, Shuttleworth said.

When classes resume next month, a significant change will be the introduction of a four-by-four block scheduling system at Morse High School. Every day a student will take four classes; once that semester is over, those classes will conclude and the student will take a different set of four classes.

Teachers will have three classes, and they will use the fourth slot for classroom planning and to help students in need.

“The primary focus is to reduce the number of classes that kids are taking at one time and allow them continuous daily focus on those classes that they are attending to,” Shuttleworth said.

RSU 1 will evaluate the model to determine its degree of success with students, he added.

Woolwich’s approximately 300 students will spend the next two school years off campus and at the Huse School in Bath as their new school is being built. Almost $250,000-worth of construction has gone into bringing the Huse School up to code for the students. The administrative offices there were moved into the nearby Small School in April to make room for the students.

The Nequasset Road facility should be complete by May 2012 and open for classes that September, and it will measure approximately 66,000 square feet, about twice the size of the current building.

While much of the more than 50-year-old facility will be demolished, additions that house classroom space will be preserved to contain administrative offices, and the existing gym will be expanded for incorporation into the new building.

The Bath Regional Career and Technical Center has new welding, composites and commercial art programs. A significant amount of retrofitting has occurred there to facilitate the welding program, Shuttleworth said.

The students who enter the vocational school’s technology program can be certified to repair computers, Shuttleworth said.

Dean Emmerson is returning to the role of director of technology, a job he had before Bath and School Union 47 joined to become RSU 1.

RSU 1 has expanded its pre-kindergarten program to about 100 slots this year. Family Focus will run the program for about 16 children in a classroom at the Dike-Newell elementary school in Bath; the other children attend pre-kindergarten programs throughout the community.

Morse High School students have been reconstructing a 17th-century shallop through a partnership between the Merrymeeting Area Summer School and Maine’s First Ship. The project is due to conclude next month. The tow and sailing vessel is being built in a 19th century rail-sea freight shed, on the BFC Marine property at Commercial and Lambard streets.

“That has been absolutely fabulous,” Shuttleworth said.

This school year will see a shift from normal classroom instruction of foreign language at the middle school level to Web-based learning through the Rosetta Stone program. A world language technology integration specialist will guide that transition.

RSU 1 will determine whether Rosetta Stone is also an adequate instructional model at the elementary level, Shuttleworth said.

The switch is one way that RSU 1 is coping with continued revenue shortfalls and making the most with what it has to work with.

“I don’t see further dollars coming right now,” Shuttleworth said. “I think it’s going to have to come from creative allocation of the current dollars that we have.”

Kindergarten through ninth grade classes begin Wednesday, Sept. 1, while grades 10 through 12 start the following day, Sept. 2.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.