UPDATE: Freeport-Pownal-Durham teachers voting again on contract

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FREEPORT — As a second round of voting was underway Tuesday on the proposed contract for Regional School Unit 5 teachers.

Coastal Education Association President Nancy Drolet said she wanted some kind of clear result from the balloting, which ends Wednesday.

“We wanted a yes or no,” Drolet said. “It’s like having a tie game. It’s OK in elementary school.”

One vote is what it will take to break a 58-58 deadlock on the proposed three-year contract that would run through June 30, 2014.

“I’ve been telling teachers this is a good time to teach students about the power of one,” Drolet said.

The tie vote occurred May 22 as almost 90 percent of the 129 union members cast ballots on the first contract to fully conform workplace policies since the formation of RSU 5 in 2009.

The Coastal Education Association is comprised of staff from Freeport, Durham, and Pownal. The association formed soon after the consolidation of RSU 5, but contract talks regarding provisions like sick leaves, professional training, grievance procedures and benefits continued without an agreement between the teachers and School Board.

Drolet said 88 percent of votes cast against the contract contained comments. Voters were less likely to comment about wages, she said, than the policies in the contract.

The contract was unanimously approved by the RSU 5 School Board on May 9.

Details of the contract will not be available until it is fully ratified, but Drolet and School Board Chairman Nelson Larkins have hinted at its contents.

At the May 23 community meeting for the $24.9 million fiscal year 2013 RSU 5 budget, Larkins said efforts to create conforming pay scales throughout the district could lead to 10 percent raises for Durham teachers.

Drolet said one basis for disagreement between the board and union was whether contract elements such as the length of the school day are board-directed educational policy or contract provisions both sides must approve.

Drolet said initial review of comments on affirmative votes show union members still have reservations about the deal.

“I think the board knows people are not 100 percent giddy about this,” Drolet said.

The two-day voting period was scheduled because union bylaws prohibit absentee voting. Drolet said at least one union member did not vote on May 22 because of a delayed flight.

Some union members who are leaving the district at the end of the school year also did not vote, Drolet said.

The tie was discovered almost by happenstance, Drolet said, when a marked ballot was discovered in a pile of blank ones. She said she was uncertain whether it was marked yes or no, but it did explain the tie.

After the deadlock, Drolet said there was some discussion of returning the contract to the union negotiating team, but the time spent negotiating and the weariness of union members seeking a resolution called for a quick second vote.

‘We didn’t want the turmoil and emotional divisions,” she said.

At the community meeting May 23 for the RSU 5 budget, voters approved increasing the contingency fund found in Article 6 for regular instruction by $174,000.

At least some of that increase will help cover wage increases when a contract is approved, RSU 5 Superintendent Shannon Welsh said.

One way or another, Drolet said she is ready for a clear result from the second vote.

“It left everyone exhausted and laughing,” Drolet said about the tie.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.