After three full years of working under expired contracts, Regional School Unit 20 teachers are now working under one contract and are earning equal pay and benefits.

Thursday afternoon, Jan. 24, RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter, Chairman of the RSU 20 Board of Directors Tony Bagley and Education Association By the Bay President Betty Lu Brown met at the central office to sign off on the newly-minted contract, which will cover all of the RSU 20 teaching staff under one contract for the first time since the RSU was formed by way of the statewide school consolidation effort more than three years ago.

Brown said the contract is good for a two-year term, with salary increases going into effect immediately instead of in phases over the course of a couple of years, as was the case with past contract offers.

When asked what set this particular contract offer apart from those teachers had considered in the past, Brown stated, "It appeared to be fair."

Bagley added that teachers from the former school administrative districts 34 and 56 appeared to be happy with the terms of the contract.

Brown said the negotiation process has been an arduous one — she has attended at least 77 negotiation meetings over the last three years, 42 of which she said represented time she spent assisting with finalizing the consolidated support staff contracts the district signed onto in recent weeks. Those contract negotiations resulted in the consolidation of what were formerly four separate agreements for custodians and bus drivers, cooks, secretaries and educational technicians on the old SAD 34 side and a single contract for all of those positions from the former SAD 56, Brown said.

"It's just nice to have it done," she said.

According to the contract language, the teaching staff will receive the salary increases for the current school year in lump sum checks, less tax withholdings, with the amount of the increase being dependent upon professional experience. Those with between one and five years of experience will receive a check for $500, while teachers with six to nine years experience will be paid $750. The amounts increase incrementally, all the way up to $2,200 for staffers with more than 40 years of experience in the field.

For the following school year, RSU 20 teachers will benefit from a 16-step salary schedule that spells out how much an individual will earn based on their level of training and experience. For example, a teacher with a year of experience and a bachelor’s degree will earn $32,250 annually, while someone with an equal amount of experience with a master's degree in education would earn $34,450. A teacher with 15 years' experience and a bachelor's would receive a salary of $56,786, while a teacher with the same years of experience and a master's would make $58,986.

Teachers from the former SAD 56 will pay higher premiums for health insurance benefits, but those payments will be in line with what teachers from the old SAD 34 have been contributing for that benefit.

Brown said next year, the teacher's union will be back at the bargaining table to hammer out a contract to cover the 2015-2016 school year. She expects that process to be a bit easier than was the case for the current agreement, because negotiators will not have to "start from scratch."

Brown and Bagley agreed that signing off on a new contract that allows for all teachers with the same experience to get equal pay would likely help unify the fairly new district in other ways, too.

"I think it will help a lot," said Brown.