Teachers in RSU 29, which serves the communities of Houlton, Littleton, Monticello and Hammond, demonstrated outside of Houlton Middle-High School Monday evening to express their displeasure over contract negotiations. Holding signs as a form of silent protest are teachers, from left, Martha Berry, Melissa Goodwin, Jason Anderson, Crystal Folsom and Joellen Merry. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Teachers in RSU 29 expressed their displeasure with the district Monday evening as they protested a contract dispute outside of Houlton Middle-High School.

According to Katie Wright, spokesperson for the Teachers’ Association, all teachers in the district have been working without a new contract since July 1, 2018. That means the teachers are working under the guidelines of their previous, expired contract until a new one is agreed upon.

“The Education Association is trying to provide protection in the proposed contract that will ensure teachers have time to meet the needs of their students,” Wright said Tuesday afternoon. “Among the things teachers are asking for are protected planning time to be able to support student needs.”

Among the messages portrayed on the signs were: “Think about the Future … Pay wages and benefits that will attract bright teachers and retain veteran ones.”

During a school board meeting held at the high school Monday, a group of 17 teachers, representing all three schools in the district, filled the library wearing red as a show of solidarity. The group, however, did not ask to speak at the board meeting.

RSU 29 Superintendent Ellen Halliday said Tuesday that she could not comment on the specifics of the negotiations, but did acknowledge there is an impasse.

“The parties have worked hard to reach an agreement, however they have reached an impasse,” Halliday said. “The school board has filed for mediation. I am confident that with the aid of the mediator we will reach a contract settlement.”

Wright said RSU 29 teachers have “fallen behind in our cost per pupil expenditures, in part due to our low teacher salaries.”

“In fact, we are one of the lowest cost-per-pupil schools in the state and country,” she said. “Our hope is that during the upcoming mediation we can achieve what has not been accomplished in almost a year of negotiating with the board, a contract that supports teachers and our students. The Education Association believes that this community values its educators and its schools and is willing to ensure our students have what they need in order to succeed.”

This was originally published in The County.