During the school district’s April 11th meeting, the teacher union, the Orono Education Association, and the school board agreed on a new teacher contract. This new agreement will last from the 1st of July of this year to the 30th of June in 2023. However, the reason why this contract was so important was because the OEA wanted to make changes to the existing agreement, and the compromise they have made with the school board created some changes within the Orono School District.
“So teachers union contracts expire every two years, and so every two years we need to negotiate,” OHS chemistry teacher Mr. Rasmussen said, “We negotiate with the district what our contract will look like. The bulk of that is teacher responsibilities and wages. So not only the yearly salary but also money for different coaching assignments, different club advisors, as well as hourly work like if we had to do some sort of professional development or work in the summer. There’s a certain hourly wage that also needs to be negotiated.”
According to Mr. Rasmussen, the new contract the OEA agreed to had a few different things than the last one. There is one more combined vacation or sick days per-teacher per-year. Also, the salaries of teachers will be raised 2.45 percent retroactively this year and another 2.45 percent the next. Besides that, it is similar to what it was two years ago.
“Probably the biggest contention is economics,” superintendent of Orono Schools Dr. Flesher said. “You have people that want and need a raise and then there are out-of-context things like inflation. So things cost more and at the same point, you know, the district has had to spend a lot to keep the school open the last couple of years. We’ve had to hire lots more substitutes and extra staff. And during this, I think Dr. Alger and I talked about the resources provided to Orono. For instance, from the federal government and the state government. Those amounts were still smaller, less than what things cost.”
“What you see in the news, where things are getting very contentious and the language gets escalated, we’ve never experienced that here. I feel like every time we go into a negotiation cycle we’re working with partners in education, and we’re trying to negotiate what’s the best path forward and what’s the most cost effective way forward,” Dr. Alger, the Director of Human Resources in the Orono School District said.
“But as far as economics go, we have to be conscious of what funds are available so as not to overspend. The community members need to know that we’re looking out for their interests too. This institution can’t function without them. They are the backbone,” Dr. Alger said, “When we go into negotiations, we have to find a path through all of these topics, and send the right messages to teachers about how much we value them without putting ourselves in a position where the district is going to have financial trouble in the future. So there’s a balance that we’re trying to achieve.”
The school board and the OEA were able to come to an agreement on the teachers’ new contracts. The union was able to get some things it wanted, such as a bit more vacation time and pay raises. At the same time, the administration of the school district was able to manage the resources they had available to answer the needs of their teachers and settle everything so that the school would be financially stable.
The contract will expire in two years, and by then, the OEA will most likely have other demands for what they need for teachers, but it is good to know that both parties are working for the same common good of the school district for now and for years to come.