July 02, 2020

Midcoast schools’ support staff oppose health benefits proposal

CAMDEN – A logjam in contract negotiations between the Five Town Community School District and the Megunticook Educational Support Association continues, although an arbitration panel is reviewing the matter.

The main sticking point is health insurance, both Martha Kempe, co-president of the association, and Pat Hopkins, district superintendent, said Monday.

The school board proposed changing the dependent health insurance benefits for the support staff – educational technicians, secretaries and clerical aides – so that newly hired employees would have to bear the full cost of adding dependents to the district’s health insurance.

The support staff association balked at that, Kempe said, arguing that the district did not make the same offer to teachers.

Hopkins said the board’s position is that it must act to reduce the cost of health insurance. Teachers are the primary educators, the board believes, and so it can justify offering a better benefit package to them, she said.

The three-member arbitration panel heard arguments by both sides on Dec. 11, Kempe said, and is expected to issue a report early next month. The report will not be binding, but may lend weight to one side of the standoff.

“I think the board refuses to see us as educators,” Kempe said.

Hopkins said the district values the work of support staff, but “the board just sees [teachers and support staff] as different positions.”

Kempe said the support staff would accept the deal offered to teachers, which increased the employee cost of dependent coverage from 10 percent to 13 percent.

At some point, the support association may be asked to take the board’s last best offer, a scenario that does not sit well with Kempe.

“We would not take it without a fight,” she said.

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