R.W. Traip Academy, the public high school in Kittery, is seen in a Seacoast Online file photo. The Kittery teachers’ union and School Committee have reached a complete tentative agreement for a new contract following 11 total collective bargaining sessions that began back in March, Superintendent Eric Waddell said Thursday. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — The teachers’ union and School Committee here have reached a complete tentative agreement for a new contract following 11 total collective bargaining sessions that began back in March, Superintendent Eric Waddell said Thursday.

The previous contract for teachers, school nurses, librarians and counselors who encompass Unit A of the Kittery Education Association expired on Aug. 31. As a result, because of an evergreen clause included in the contract that carries over stipulations until a new agreement is reached, the old contract remains in place until the signing of a new one.

Waddell said he believes the School Committee and KEA will sign the contract on either Oct. 2 or 16, and the contract terms will become public after the signing.

During contract negotiations three years ago, the parties tried to remedy the fact that Kittery teachers ranked either last or next to last when compared to average salaries of nine neighboring communities, and the conversations have continued since.

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Waddell said a new agreement would have likely been reached by the Aug. 31 expiration date, but the School Committee’s decision last September to reopen Unit C’s contract to renegotiate pay schedules for ed techs pushed that timeline back. The prior collective bargaining agreement for Unit C expired at the end of June, so the KEA and School Committee agreed to start with Unit C before focusing solely on the Aug. 31 expiration of Unit A.

While negotiations are confidential under state law, Waddell did say: “Both the teachers and the School Committee feel strongly that we need to make sure that our teachers are paid at a competitive wage. That was something we all agreed on, of course balancing that with the realities of the hand we are dealt.”

Based on valuations, the state currently provides no funding to the Kittery School District for “regular education.” The district does receive $1.1 million for “allowable special education” costs.

In the Unit A collective bargaining agreement reached in 2015, teacher salaries were increased to be more toward “the middle of the pack” with neighboring school districts, and the amount of years required to reach a maximum salary was decreased from 19 years to 16. In that contract, starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree was increased from $33,000 to $35,308, with the goal of attracting more high-quality, young teachers.

At the time, to negotiate a new pay scale and increases, the negotiating teams looked at the average teaching salaries of nine neighboring communities, including Portsmouth, York and Marshwood schools, where before Kittery had ranked either last or next to last.

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During the school budget process in April, Town Councilor Charles Denault expressed concerned that the School District administration was becoming top heavy, and he wanted to “see the pie be more evenly spread.”

School Committee members rebutted that Denault wasn’t working with complete information, and Waddell said salary comparisons for Kittery’s nine administrators with surrounding school districts in southern Maine showed Kittery’s administrators to be in the middle of the salary scale with their contemporaries.

Just north in York, the School Committee and York Teachers Association are headed for mediation after 22 executive sessions and more than 60 hours total have not proven successful in reaching a new agreement.

KEA representatives did not return a request for comment in time for publication, however, co-president Jolyn Hayward said she was attending Wednesday night’s York School Committee meeting to show support for York teachers.

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