State and local education leaders reacted sharply Friday to the Portland Public School District’s recent failure to pay some of its employees on time and in the correct amounts.

“The Maine Education Association will do what is necessary to support our members and ensure they receive all the pay they have earned, in addition to receiving compensation for any fees they may have incurred due to this issue,” MEA President Grace Leavitt said.

Education technicians in the Portland Public School District are still waiting for salary increases and back pay after their union and the school board agreed to a three-year contract last month. Union officials said many employees who were counting on having a little extra money in their pockets as the holiday season approaches are financially strapped, frustrated and demoralized.

“There are many staff living paycheck to paycheck,” Jennifer Cooper, president of the union that represents ed techs, said in an interview this week. “For the lower-wage staff that work for the district, this is having a huge impact.”

The ed tech union and Portland school board formally agreed to the three-year contract on Oct. 18. It included a 3% retroactive raise for the 2021-22 school year and an additional 2% raise for both the 2022-23 (partially retroactive) and 2023-24 school years. The retroactive raises cover the time the union went without a contract. 

But those hourly employees have yet to see their wages increase or receive their retroactive pay. And that’s on top of a variety of other payroll issues plaguing the district that have left Portland employees unable to pay their bills on time, unsure about how they are going to buy necessities like food, and subject to bank and overdraft fees.


Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana announced Tuesday that over the previous three pay periods the district had failed to pay some of its employees on time and in the correct amounts and that its leave accrual system had not been working as it should.


On Thursday evening, Botana sent an email to all staff announcing their paychecks would arrive late.

Xavier Botana is superintendent of the Portland Public Schools.

“Dear All, I wanted to let you know that our payroll team finalized the payroll this evening,” he wrote. “As you know we had a network outage and that complicated things some. You will receive your disbursements by the close of business tomorrow. I recognize that this is later than when you are accustomed to, but that is the best we could do today. A few people will receive paper checks tomorrow. Thank you for your patience.”

As of 10:30 a.m. on Friday, some educators had been paid. Ed techs who spoke with the Press Herald, however, said their paychecks still reflected their old wages and did not include back pay.

Botana did not mention Tuesday that Portland’s ed techs had yet to receive the wage increases or retroactive pay spelled out in their legally binding contract. Neither Botana nor school board Chair Emily Figdor responded to questions from the Press Herald regarding the district’s payroll issues.


In the Friday statement the MEA said it plans to work with a lawyer to help its Portland members deal with pay discrepancies and bank fees they incurred due to the payroll issues, and the Portland Education Association said it wants an increase in communication and transparency from the district.

“People are hurting. Inflation is hitting everyone,” said Kerrie Dowdy, president of the Portland Education Association. “And not to receive expected pay – it’s just not acceptable.”

After more than a year of negotiations, Rowe Elementary School ed tech Amy Zanghi said she was thrilled when the new contract finally was signed. She hoped with the wage increase and retroactive pay coming her way she would be able to enjoy her holidays a little more.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I can have a Christmas,'” Zanghi said.

But now the holidays are right around the corner, and she’s lost hope that she’ll get her retroactive pay or wage increase by then.

“It’s a 60-cent raise, but that really matters when we’re paid so little,” she said. “I live paycheck to paycheck. So without that, there’s no money.”


According to the contract, Portland ed techs should be receiving between $15.89 and $27.56 per hour for the 2022-23 school year depending on education and experience.

Zanghi has a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation services and social work. She’s been at Rowe for four years and in education for 20. She said she loves her job and working with kids, but her morale is low and financial stress high.


“It feels like I held up my end of the bargain. I worked my hours,” she said. “But then they didn’t pay me what they’re supposed to pay me. It’s a perfect example of how ed techs are overlooked, undervalued and forgotten.”

Zanghi said it is particularly frustrating to go without her wage increase because due to a district, state and nationwide educator shortage, she and others are more overworked than ever.

Other Portland educators hit by the district’s payroll issues shared similar frustrations.


“I know things are hard. But an apology just isn’t enough for people who weren’t paid and couldn’t pay their bills,” said one Deering educator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retribution from the school district.

The Deering educator reported going nearly a month without being paid, and thus missing a credit card payment and now owing an additional 17 percent, or $510 dollars, on what used to be a $3,000 dollar credit card bill.

The district employee also expressed frustration, saying that the school district didn’t do its job correctly, but employees are the ones who have to figure out how to cough up the extra money.

“The district didn’t pay people like me for a whole month,” the employee said. “Then all they said is sorry.”

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