Fryeburg Academy, teachers at odds over contract

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Does a new three-year contract exist between Fryeburg Academy and the Fryeburg Academy Teachers Association (FATA)?

James St. Pierre, president of the FATA, says, “Yes.” He signed his name on the bottom line of a new agreement on Oct. 1.

As did A.O. Pike, as president of the Fryeburg Academy Board of Trustees, according to St. Pierre.

However, a disagreement in regards to the new salary scale has left Academy officials claiming the terms were not what the two sides agreed upon.

FA Headmaster Dan Lee and Principal David Sturdevant referred all questions to Academy attorney Linda McGill of the firm Bernstein & Shur of Portland.

“Fryeburg  Academy and the faculty disagree on the terms of the new  salary scale that was the subject of negotiations between the Academy and the faculty association,” McGill said Monday. “The Academy believes that there was agreement to a salary scale that would give faculty members increases of about 8% over the next three years. The faculty now asserts that the agreement was for raises that would amount to nearly 10% in the first year alone. This is obviously such a fundamental misunderstanding that we in effect do not have a workable agreement.”

McGill added, “The Academy is committed to competitive and fair salaries for all its employees, but the Academy would not and did not enter into an agreement like the faculty claims. No different than any other educational institution, the Academy must balance its budget.”

Negotiations between the Academy and FATA started in mid-January. St. Pierre says an agreement was reached on Aug. 13 and a new contract was signed “by both parties” on Oct. 1.

“I’d first like to stress that there are no negotiation sessions scheduled because the members of the Fryeburg Academy Teachers Association firmly believe that the current contract is valid and binding,” St. Pierre said. “The Academy signed the contract and is thus obligated to fulfill it. Whatever their misunderstandings are, they stem from their lack of due diligence, not ours. They need to honor their commitments.”

The FATA was formed in 1974, and currently represents 52 teachers. Four or five of the salaries are reimbursed by SAD 72, St. Pierre said.

“For decades, the Association and the Academy have had a cooperative relationship, in which the teachers have carried out the academic, sports, music, theater and other instructional activities of the Academy, and the Academy provided respectful and fair conditions of employment for the teachers,” wrote St. Pierre in an initial release to The News. “That has now changed, and the Association feels the need to advise the rest of the Fryeburg Academy community, including the students, parents, other staff, the Town of Fryeburg and the other towns which send their children to us for schooling and the public at large.”

St. Pierre said the new contract calls for wage increases in each of the three years. When teachers received their first paychecks under the new agreement, figures were dramatically different.

“After signing the contract, the Academy offered teachers their traditional individual contracts but with salaries thousands of dollars below the levels agreed upon,” St. Pierre wrote. “When the Association questioned their actions, the Academy refused to provide any basis for its actions.”

On several occasions, the Academy’s management showed FATA representatives a spreadsheet, “which allegedly reflects the salary schedule which the Academy thinks was agreed to,” St. Pierre said. FATA representatives requested a copy of the spreadsheet, but were denied, St. Pierre added.

A public letter was released by the Academy on Oct. 18 stating there had been a “mutual misunderstanding and mistake,” and the Academy was “evaluating its options.”

“Regarding their (Academy) assertion of a 10% increase, we can only go by the numbers they supplied us during negotiations, which place the amount well below this projection,” St. Pierre told The News Monday. “Whatever figures they are using, they are not sharing with us. But, none of this really matters. We have a contract. They signed it. They need to honor it.”

St. Pierre said the FATA also takes offense to how the Academy has either yet to pay for stipend positions or withheld funds until the last possible moment.

McGill countered the claim, saying “Contrary to the union’s statement, all faculty members are being paid their stipends for extra-curricular activities of any kind, no different than any other school year, and they are being paid their regular salaries.”

St. Pierre disagreed.

“We have dozens of paycheck stubs to support this (claim). Our salaries reflect no bargained increases whatsoever, step or otherwise,” he said. “There is nothing ‘regular’ about them. The faculty is being held hostage in an unethical ploy to pressure us into submitting. We won’t.”

Despite the pay disagreement, St. Pierre said coaches and other FA teachers taking part in extracurricular activities will continue their work with students.

“The Association and the teachers we represent think this is dirty pool. We do not want to shortchange the students, and we are continuing to coach and direct and support all of our students in developing both academically and in extracurricular activities,” St. Pierre said.

While McGill says the Academy “looks forward to resolving the disagreement quickly and sensibly,” St. Pierre says the FATA will possibly bring their case to the community and parents in the form of demonstrations in front of the school.

“Regardless of these actions, we will — with support from the Maine Education Association — pursue whatever legal means necessary to press our rights and the justness of our cause,” St. Pierre said.

At the conclusion of the letter sent to The News, St. Pierre noted that the Fryeburg Academy mission statement includes, “We strive to create a supportive school environment that promotes respect, tolerance and cooperation, and prepares students for responsible citizenship.”

“It is the belief of the Fryeburg Academy Teachers Association that it is not respectful or cooperative to renege on your agreements,” St. Pierre said. “It is the Association’s belief that providing our students with an example of repudiating your agreements does not prepare those students for responsible citizenship.”

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