BELFAST, Maine — After almost four years without a contract, teachers in RSU 20 have a new wage and benefit agreement.

The contract takes on added significance in that it marks the first time faculty from the former Belfast-area SAD 34 and former Searsport-area SAD 56 are earning at the same wage scale. Those in the former SAD 56 schools with the same experience as their SAD 34 counterparts had earned lower salaries under deals struck with their former districts.

When the districts consolidated four years ago, school officials knew they would have to raise the pay of those working in the former SAD 56 schools.

Betty-Lu Brown, an educator who represents the Education Association By The Bay, the local union, was at the district’s central office Thursday afternoon to sign copies of the contract, along with Tony Bagley, chairman of the RSU 20 Board of Directors.

As Superintendent Brian Carpenter looked on, he observed that it was nice to “put an end to all this …” Brown finished the sentence for him: “Misery?”

Brown said the nearly four years of negotiations have meant, for her, almost 80 meetings with teachers and representatives of the school board. District teachers in both the former SAD 34 and former SAD 56 schools have been working under the terms of the earlier agreements.

The new agreement is for a 2-year term, and goes into effect immediately, Brown said. But salary adjustments for the current school year will be paid in lump sum checks. Those with 1-5 years experience will be issued a check for $500 before taxes, those with 6-9 years experience will be paid $750, all the way up to those with 40-plus years experience being paid $2,200.

Next year, a 16-step salary schedule will be in place. A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will earn $32,250; a teacher with five years experience and a bachelor’s will earn $38,257; and at the top, a teacher with 15 or more years experience and a bachelor’s will earn $56,786.

Teachers ratified the deal in a 111-9 vote, Brown said.

Though the salary schedule for teachers in the former SAD 56 schools generally will be increased, those teachers also will pay more for their health insurance under the new agreement, Brown said, matching the level paid by those in the former SAD 34.

Both Bagley and Brown said they felt the new agreement was a success.

“Both sides gave,” Bagley said, and Brown added that the new deal was fair.

Bagley said the two districts have begun to function more as one, and that the single teachers contract would help solidify the merger.

In recent weeks, the district also signed agreements with the collective bargaining units that represent educational technicians, clerical staff, bus drivers, custodians and food service staff for the consolidated district.