Teachers and school staff in Regional School Unit 21 are speaking out about stalled contract negotiations and plan to raise their concerns publicly at an event in Kennebunk on Friday.

“The association is seeking community and district support of our teachers after a particularly difficult year in education,” said Jenessa Cadorette, president of the Kennebunk Arundel Kennebunkport Education Association, in an email Thursday.

“We were once praised for going above and beyond to ensure that our students’ needs were met, but lately we have experienced nothing but resistance and a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude.”

The association has 178 members including teachers, other instructional staff such as librarians and counselors, and nurses. The school board also voted last week to allow additional staff, including social workers, physical therapists and school psychologists, to be covered under the contract.

Last Wednesday, membership voted to institute work to rule, under which employees strictly adhere to performing only required work and stop doing voluntary additional work, and the practice has been in effect since Tuesday. Teachers have also been wearing red in solidarity and entering and exiting their respective buildings in unity, Cadorette said.

On Friday, district staff plan to gather at the Park Street playground in Kennebunk for a “Red for Ed” march through downtown.

“We want to show our board that the community does indeed support our efforts and stands behind its teachers,” Cadorette said. “Having a contract ratified by then will be a means of celebration, otherwise we will continue to speak loudly and often until an agreement can be reached.”

The school board said in a statement it has been working “diligently and in good faith” with the union to negotiate a new three-year contract covering September 2021 through August 2024.

“There are complex issues at the negotiation table, particularly during these difficult times,” the board said. “The Board’s goal is to resolve these issues as soon as possible. We will have disagreements at the table, but let’s not let the process negatively impact our children.”

The 2021-22 budget is scheduled to go to voters Tuesday.

“In the current teachers contract, there are multiple examples where some teachers get a raise that is three times less than a comparable teacher’s raise, based on relatively similar completed years of service,” the board wrote. “This is just one example of the important issues we are seeking to resolve.”

The board said it is willing to meet as often as necessary to resolve the outstanding contract issues and hopes to come to at least a tentative agreement before the end of the school year. The current contract expires Aug. 31. The association has said its members would also like to see both sides come to a resolution before the last day of school on June 15.

“Our members deserve this kind of closure after a year that has asked so much of them,” Cadorette said.

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