AUGUSTA, Maine — A core priority of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposals to reform Maine’s public education system will face its first big public test Thursday afternoon at the State House when a bill to create a statewide teachers contract is introduced to the Legislature’s Education Committee.

LD 864 would establish a single contract for all public school teachers, as well as a common pay scale for all, by Jan. 1, 2021. If the bill passes, the Department of Administrative and Financial Services would be required to develop a plan to implement that by January of next year for consideration by the 128th Legislature in the second year of its session.

The concept is one element of a very aggressive education reform package proposed by LePage in his biennial budget proposal. In effect, the measure would take contract negotiations away from local school boards and equalize base teacher pay across the state. LePage has often said teachers in Maine deserve more pay but has declined to say how much he thinks they should make.

Others have some thoughts about that. Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, a member of the Legislature’s Education Committee, has brought back a bill she attempted last session. Among other things, LD 818 would create new thresholds for teacher qualifications and establish a minimum teacher salary of $40,000 a year. That bill was presented to lawmakers on Wednesday.

LePage and his education commissioner, Robert Hasson, have said where salaries should be set is a matter to be negotiated. It’s hard to say what will happen with this bill but some members of both parties have indicated some support for the concept, though it’s likely lawmakers will try to incorporate elements from Millett’s proposal, which as bills go this session is one of the higher-profile ones offered by Democrats.

LePage focused on the bill in his weekly radio address.

“This is especially important in rural and disadvantaged schools where there is high turnover because they are unable to compete with higher salaries in wealthier districts,” said LePage. “A statewide teacher’s contract will enable excellent, properly paid, professional educators for every classroom and student in the state of Maine.”

In the end, the fate of this bill could come down to the usual questions around funding. It’s hard to imagine that in the implementation of a statewide contract and uniform salaries that any higher-paid teachers would have their salaries cut, which means the lower-paid teachers would receive raises.

Those and other issues are sure to be part of the focus this afternoon in testimony on the bill. You can listen in starting around 1 p.m. by clicking here.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.