SCARBOROUGH — The town’s teachers rallied during Thursday night’s school board meeting, calling for an end to stalled contract talks and riding a wave of support from presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

About 100 teachers streamed into the municipal building and packed the Town Council chamber, chanting and carrying signs saying “Support a Fair & Equitable Contract” and “Pay Us What We’re Worth.”

Sanders has tweeted about the contract dispute in recent days, drawing national attention to a small coastal town with just over 3,000 public school students in kindergarten through Grade 12.

On Thursday, Sanders supported the teachers in a letter to the editor that he submitted to the Portland Press Herald, saying “I am proud to stand in solidarity with them and with educators all over the country in this important struggle.”

Sanders said Scarborough teachers “are part of a nationwide grassroots movement demanding real investment in our schools, instead of tax cuts for large profitable corporations and the billionaire class.”

During the rally, the teachers were joined by Sheila Healy, labor outreach director for the Sanders campaign in New England, and state Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland, who is directing Sanders’ campaign in Maine.


Healy said Sanders, who is vying for the Democratic nomination, is making a concerted effort to bolster fights for workers’ rights at the local level, in keeping with campaign platforms backing teachers and organized labor.

“This is an example of what’s going on across the country,” Healy said during the rally. “We want to lift up workers.”

The protesters disrupted the school board meeting with chants and attempts to speak for about 20 minutes, including a 10-minute break called by chairwoman Leanne Kazilionos. When the board meeting resumed, the teachers filed out of the building, chanting all the way to the parking lot.

Kazilionos said the board wouldn’t take public comment on the teachers’ contract while it’s in dispute. She also declined to comment on Sanders’ letter to the Press Herald or the potential impact Sanders’ involvement might have on negotiations.

“The process is underway,” Kazilionos said before the meeting. “It’s incumbent on us to follow the process.”

Sanders tweeted his support for the Scarborough Education Association two weeks ago, after the teachers’ union held its first rally to call attention to stalled contract talks.


“I stand with @MaineEA and the teachers in Scarborough, Maine, who are fighting for better working conditions and a union contract,” Sanders tweeted. “We will protect teachers’ right to stand up for themselves and their students, and all workers’ right to strike.”

The tweet has been shared hundreds of times, liked nearly 2,000 times and commented on by people across the United States.

Krystal Ash-Cuthbert, union president, said Scarborough teachers are grateful for the attention fostered by Sanders’ campaign.

“Teachers in Scarborough appreciate the broad support from around the country,” Ash-Cuthbert said in a written statement. “The lack of teacher voices in decisions that impact students is an issue nationwide, and here in Scarborough it’s clear the teachers aren’t going to go unheard.”

In his letter to the Press Herald, Sanders said, “It is unacceptable that the minimum starting salary for Maine teachers is $40,000 and that the average pay is 20 percent below that of comparably trained professionals. And it is unacceptable that because of funding shortages, collectively Maine teachers will spend more than $5 million of their own money on school supplies this year.”

Sanders said these conditions are not unique to Maine. “For years, public education has been under attack all over this country. State after state has cut funding, underpaid our teachers and forced them to ‘teach to the test,’ and allowed segregation in our schools to rise.”


Sanders noted recent teachers strikes in other states.

“In states as diverse as West Virginia and Arizona, Oklahoma and California, teachers have gone on strike for more funding for public schools, better pay for educators and support staff, and smaller class sizes,” he said. “Just like in Maine, teacher strikes are illegal in many of these states. But that has not stopped them from doing whatever it takes to fight for the schools their students deserve.”

In Scarborough, teachers’ union leaders and school board members started negotiations in February. The previous three-year contract expired Aug. 31.

After more than 10 bargaining sessions and two mediation sessions, the two sides entered fact-finding last month, a process facilitated by a panel with a neutral chairperson.

Kazilionos said Thursday that a report from the panel is expected Tuesday.

The teachers say they are seeking additional paid preparation time to improve their practice, create better lessons and meet the increasing demands of the profession. They also want an explicit complaints-and-investigations process that is clear and fair; and salaries that are comparable to districts in nearby communities with a similar tax base, Ash-Cuthbert said.

Kazilionos has said that the two sides have “good-faith disagreements” about what should be in the contract and that school officials hope the recommendations of the fact-finding panel will help bring a settlement.

In his letter, Sanders said the school board “wants to cut paid class preparation hours when teachers are already working overtime on their lesson plans.”

Ash-Cuthbert clarified that the school board initially sought to cut paid prep time but had dropped that bargaining point.

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