June 05, 2020

Teacher contract talks at Ellsworth at impasse

ELLSWORTH — Only two gray tables separated negotiators for the Ellsworth Education Association and the School Board on Thursday afternoon, but pay raises and insurance benefits kept them philosophically far apart.

The negotiating session at the Ellsworth City Library was the sixth since the parties agreed to open the talks to the public. Such open negotiations are a first for Ellsworth, and a rarity in the rest of the state.

Last month, the teachers’ representatives rejected across-the-board, $750 pay raises for each of the next two years, and asked for a 4.15 percent increase those years and step increases the second year. Phil Sawyer, chief negotiator for the teachers, based the figure on a 3 percent cost-of-living increase, and a 1.5 percent increase to cover the increased contributions teachers must pay next year to the state retirement system.

During that meeting, Tom MacDonald, chief negotiator for the School Board, and Superintendent Bruce Sawyer countered with the offer of 3 percent across-the-board raises for the 1993-94 and 1994-95 school years and no step increases. In addition, the school system would pay only 50 percent of any increase in health insurance costs the second year. Teachers still would be expected to contribute $100 toward their coverage for 1993-94.

At the Sept. 9 session, the teachers proposed 3.5 percent across-the-board raises during the 1993-94 and 1994-95, in all pay categories, with all eligible teachers permitted to progress to the next step in their classification the second year. They rejected any increase in teacher insurance contributions.

When the two sides met Thursday, MacDonald and the superintendent held firm on their offer of a 3 percent pay increase, and the teachers were equally adamant in rejecting it. During that discussion, teachers learned that $84,000 had been budgeted for insurance and pay increases, and that was all the School Board had to offer. “That’s about 3 percent,” MacDonald said.

“So you knew going in it was only 3 percent,” said teacher negotiator David Stackpole.

MacDonald defended the amount. He said the offer was based, among other things, on the economy of the area and school needs.

The two sides began to spar over the issue and tension developed as they accused each other of not bargaining in good faith.

Stackpole asked MacDonald if he thought it was fair for teachers to receive a 3 percent increase for each of the next two years, when the school administrators were limited to that amount for only one year. He asked MacDonald to guarantee that the administrators would not get a larger increase next year.

MacDonald said he could not predict what administrators might receive next year, but he said if the teachers agreed to the offer, they would be guaranteed another 3 percent increase.

Bruce Sawyer reviewed the past few meetings. He pointed out that the teachers had not moved off their 3.5 percent request and that the two sides had made no progress Thursday. MacDonald said the administration had made several concessions, but the teachers had not.

Phil Sawyer disagreed. He said the teachers only Thursday had learned what dollar amount was available. “You can sit there and accuse us of bad faith, posturing, and extended rhetoric, but I am not supposed to respond to that, because if I respond to that, that is continuing the rhetoric and posturing,” Phil Sawyer said.

MacDonald and Bruce Sawyer suggested that since both sides had the authority to agree tentatively to the administration’s 3 percent offer, they should sign off and take the agreement to their respective sides.

Phil Sawyer said he believed his side had three options: to propose the distribution of the $84,000 to their own formula; take a straw poll of the teachers on the 3 percent offer; or do both. After a few more minutes of wrangling over language and who had the authority to negotiate, the two sides agreed to meet again Oct. 5.

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