York High School. Credit: Google Streetview

YORK, Maine — A new, three-year teacher contract has been signed by all parties, 14 months after negotiations began, four months after the previous contract expired and more than a month after the new contract was ratified.

The contract, between the School Committee and York Teachers Association, calls for more modest salary increases than in the previous contract, a component that ties salary increases to teacher performance and slight modifications in health insurance and retirement incentives, among other provisions.

“You’re never going to get a perfect contract, but I believe there was an effort to make sure the contract that was signed was the best it could be,” said School Committee member Julie Eneman, who along with colleague Dave Herbein represented the committee during negotiations. “We put in a lot of hours of work, but I think it was worth the time. And I commend the YTA for putting in all that time with us.”

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Significant in the new contract, all teachers will receive the same cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase regardless of tenure. That differs from the previous contract, in which veteran teachers received a slightly higher COLA than their less-experienced counterparts.

Teachers who work in the system for less than 15 years have always received step increases in addition to COLAs. In the previous contract, those teachers received COLAs of 2.25 percent in year one and 3 percent in years two and three. Veteran teachers received COLA increases of 3.25 in year one, and 4 percent in years two and three.

In the new contract, all teachers regardless of tenure will receive COLA increases of 1.1, 2 and 2.5 percent over the three years of the contract. Those in the step system will see step increases of 3.2, 2 and 2.5 percent in that same period, for total pay increases of 4.3 percent, 4 percent and 5 percent.

As a point of interest, in year one, starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $46,188, and for one with a master’s degree, $50,806. Pay tops out at step 15, with a salary in year one of $71,787 for someone with a bachelor’s degree and $78,964 for someone with a master’s.

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Eneman said the School Committee’s mandate by law is to make decisions in the best interest of students. So when she and Herbein looked at the salary structure, “it wasn’t about money per se but the collective impact of the contract on students. In order to meet that mandate, we had to be mindful of what the taxpayer’s wishes are. It’s not good for students if a budget doesn’t pass. That doesn’t serve their interests.”

She also said salary increases are not decided in a silo, but that many factors also contribute to a total teacher compensation package. For instance, the School Committee wanted to equalize increases between steps, so the same percentage increase is being given to a teacher who had been there eight years as given to a new teacher. She said in past contracts, the percentage increase could vary between the steps.

Also discussed was York’s salary structure in relation to similar Maine districts and New Hampshire and Massachusetts, she said. In addition, many school districts have more than 15 steps, and as many as 25. “A lot of things go into the calculations.”

It is also important to note despite receiving a smaller increase in salary, teachers are working the same number of days and are paying the same amount – 15 percent – into health insurance as they did under the last contract. The district pays 85 percent.

YTA President William True said the teachers associated is pleased an agreement has been reached.

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“The York Teachers Association looks forward to working with our new superintendent Lou Goscinski, our School Committee, our administrative team, and the citizens of York in order to provide the very best educational opportunities that we can for our students,” he said. “We look to move forward. We look to focus our attention on the future, the students of York.”

Eneman said one of the reasons negotiations took so long is that she and Herbein wanted to go over even the boilerplate language in the contract to make sure it accurately reflected current district policies and practices as well as state law.

One pertinent area that was updated ties salary increases to teacher performance. Since the last contract, a state law has passed that requires districts to adopt “performance evaluation and professional growth” (PEPG) mandates. Teachers now must be evaluated yearly on their performance.

York pays its highly effective teachers a professional advancement increment (PAI) payment of between $2,000 and $2,750 depending on years of service. This is in addition to their base pay.

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Under terms of the contract, teachers rated “highly effective” or “effective” will receive a salary increase as set out in the contract; teachers receiving a rating of “improvement/growth necessary” will remain on their current step and will not receive a PAI, but following the next evaluation if it improves will receive pay and PAI according to their step that year; teachers who don’t meet the standards receive no salary increases at all.

“A lot of little things went into this discussion, but I think the primary impetus for that particular discussion is that the language in the previous contract did not match PEPG,” said Eneman.

In fashioning the fiscal year 2020 budget, Goscinski called for largely flat spending, saying teacher salaries, which comprise about 80 percent of the entire budget, must be honored this year.