PORTLAND — With a half-hour scheduled to go over the school district’s budget of nearly $90 million, city councilors Monday spent nearly all of the time on a $75,000 item that, technically, isn’t even part of the budget.

The figure is in the new contract between the district and teachers’ union, which resulted in additional teaching days plus wage concessions that will save the district nearly $1 million next year.

Several councilors said they were baffled by one of the few concessions made by the district in the contract – agreeing to cover 80 percent of the annual pay for Kathleen Casasa, the teachers’ union president. That means the district will pay $74,952 and the union will pay the other $18,738.

Superintendent James Morse said it’s a small shift for a budget that overwhelmingly favors the district.

Casasa, Morse said, has always been an employee of the school district – even when the district paid only 20 percent of her union salary – because she’s technically on leave from teaching duties.

“She works for the school system,” he told the councilors during an informal workshop review of the school budget. “She’s a powerful voice of advocacy for the teachers and also for the school system.”

Morse said Casasa works with administrators, helping to shape policies to make them more acceptable to teachers. Her input, he said, can also head off formal grievances that could cost thousands of dollars in legal fees to arbitrate.

And the assumption of the majority of her pay – which could be renegotiated when the pact expires in three years – is a tiny amount compared to what the union gave up in the contract, he reminded councilors. “We gave them $74,000 … and they gave up several million,” he said.

Several other councilors suggested their colleagues were making too much of a small part of a large contract that’s saving the district millions.

“In the long run, it’s a very good contract and this is a small piece of it,” said Mayor Nicholas Mavodones.

After the workshop, the council gave the school budget a first reading. It is scheduled to vote on it next week before it goes to voters on May 10.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]