The Maine Township High School District 207 school board approved in a 5-1 vote Friday morning a three-year teachers' contract allowing for a roughly 0.66 percent pay hike including step increases in the first year, which begins Aug. 16.
The contract covers the district's roughly 500 teachers and teacher assistants. In year two of the contract, teachers would receive a 1 percent pay raise plus step increases of 1.84 percent, bringing the average increase up to 2.84 percent. Raises will be tied to the Consumer Price Index in the third year with a minimum of 0.5 percent and a maximum of 2.4 percent, not including step increases of 1.6 percent. The new contract also changes the step schedule from a 20-year period to a 25-year period for teachers to reach the top of the pay scale. The starting salary for an entry-level teacher with a bachelor's degree but no experience is $53,779, including the district's Teacher Retirement System contribution. The top end of that scale is $128,107 for a teacher with a master's degree plus 64 credit hours of further education and 25 years in the district.
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Most teachers won't be getting a raise in the first year other than the step increase, which averages out to 1.84 percent, said Mike Poehler, president of the Maine Teacher's Association.
It's the first teachers' contract to be negotiated and approved since the district laid off more than 100 employees in spring 2010 -- including 57 teachers -- to help cut $15 million in expenses from the 2010-2011 academic year.
It was an emotional and bitter experience for both sides, yet officials said they have moved past that with the new contract.
When negotiations began earlier this year, both sides knew going in that the generous raises of the past won't be possible this time around.
The previous five-year teachers' contract, which expired at the end of the 2011-2012 academic year, ensured a 6 percent pay raise on average in the final year.
"I think that this contract is actually one that protects the taxpayers of the district," school board President Sean Sullivan said. "Given the state of the economy, neither the board nor the MTA (Maine Teacher's Association) was willing to turn around and look at the long-term exposure of a five-year contract. Students come first, and that's what this contract is about."
District officials tried to keep raises close to the increase in cost of living, he added.
School board member Ed Mueller, who was the lone "no" vote, said the contract is still too rich given the current economic climate.
Mueller said the contract does not account for potential changes in pension liabilities, should the state decide to shift more of the burden onto school districts.
"Maine teachers are the highest paid in the state even before these increases," Mueller said. "The district needs a contractual reopener to deal with the threat of the speaker of the House and others to pass through pension costs to local districts. The cost could be millions of dollars per year that is not baked into the proposed contract."
Sullivan said the problem with trying to factor in potential future pension costs is that there are too many hypothetical scenarios.
"If the school district finds itself in a financial situation where our expenses exceed our revenues, we will turn around and make deep cuts like we did three years ago," he added.
District 207 was projecting a roughly $4 million operating deficit at the end of 2011-2012 fiscal year due to shortfalls in federal and state funding. That number is now anticipated to be either a $1.5 million deficit or $1.5 million surplus depending on the receipt of revenues from the state, spokesman Dave Beery said.
The district has a more than $90 million reserve fund balance.