I attended the rally for Scarborough teachers during the Jan. 2 School Board meeting and it was clear that Scarborough teachers felt dishonored and ignored.

One of the factors contributing to these feelings was the School Board’s insistence that the public could not express its views at the public meeting, but nothing in the law prevents public comment on salaries and working conditions in our schools. And whether one agrees with the teachers or not, this response unfortunately just compounds the feeling of being ignored.

This issue comes down to the question of whether Scarborough wants the most qualified adults teaching our children in working conditions that are most conducive to student learning. As a resident of the town, my hope is that the answer to this question is “yes” and I hope that the School Board will settle the teachers’ contract in a way that reflects these values.

However, the public probably doesn’t realize that teachers in Maine are legally restricted from negotiating their most basic working conditions. For example, teachers can’t negotiate the time available for kindergarten teachers to meet during the school day to discuss how to best reach their struggling readers. Instead, these teachers are likely monitoring the cafeteria. And while the state Legislature voted in June to change this law, Gov. Mills vetoed this bill at the last minute, without discussion. Again, in a profession where there is already a feeling of being ignored, these actions just compound that feeling.

The situation in Scarborough is reflective of a broader state and national problem: The teaching profession lacks the respect and prestige that it deserves. And while those in power have the ability to work with teachers to change this, absent such cooperation teachers are left to take their concerns directly to the public, wherever and however they can.

Mark Ashe