Teachers and school officials in Regional School Unit 5 may soon reach agreement on a union contract, nearly three years after Freeport, Durham and Pownal consolidated their public schools.

Negotiators met Tuesday afternoon at Freeport High School and are scheduled to meet there again Saturday morning to put the finishing touches on a contract proposal.

“We’re actually feeling like we can get it done. We may not have it fully wordsmithed, but the hope is we’ll have an agreement by Saturday,” said Hank Ogilby, a social studies teacher at Freeport High who is chief negotiator for the teachers’ union.

RSU 5 was formed in July 2009 and negotiations started later that year on a contract for about 180 teachers, including 50 in Durham and 10 in Pownal.

Negotiators on both sides expected salaries to be equalized and increased where necessary, said Nelson Larkins, the school board chairman and one of several negotiators representing RSU 5.

“It makes sense to have everyone on the same page and have equivalent pay for equivalent work,” Larkins said. “The question has been, how do you do it and how fast?”

Combining different salary schedules and sets of job descriptions proved difficult early on, say negotiators. As talks dragged, mediators joined the process, union officials complained of dwindling morale and school officials made two small, across-the-board salary adjustments.

The tension peaked earlier this month, when teachers staged a quiet protest during a community education forum at the Freeport Performing Arts Center that included a keynote address by Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen.

“It got pretty complicated,” Larkins said. “Overall, teachers have been incredibly professional and the quality of education hasn’t been affected.”

The pending contract agreement will call for concessions on both sides, negotiators said. If they reach an agreement on Saturday, the document will need approval from a majority of the school board and the teachers’ union.

“Nobody’s going to be happy,” Ogilby said. “We have to vote on this and I’m not sure its going to pass.”

Larkins said it’s not surprising that RSU 5 has struggled a bit to combine three teacher contracts and three different school cultures in three communities.

“That’s the reality of negotiations,” Larkins said. “Some would say the best agreement is one in which everyone makes concessions.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: [email protected]