MADAWASKA – At the school committee meeting held at the Madawaska town office on May 7 in the presence of approximately 25 audience members, the committee voted unanimously to cut Linda McDermott, a middle school science teacher, and Theresa Cyr, a middle school English teacher due to declining school enrollments.
McDermott, who is losing her job in the wake of the Reduction In work Force (RIF), is a 14-year veteran.
She acknowledged that declining class sizes exist and the school will therefore have to let part of the workforce go. However, she and Gisele Faucher, another science teacher at MMHS, said they didn’t understand the rationale for letting go a veteran teacher who is qualified to teach across disciplines and retaining another less experienced teacher who is still employed as part of a “probationary” period required of teachers.
Faucher pointed out, “In the past, superintendents have opted to work the schedule to the advantage of retaining veteran teachers.”
She said the decision to let McDermott go is short-sighted, given the “impending retirement of a veteran teacher”, which will require teachers who can teach “cross subject”, she said.
Faucher also mentioned the issue of currently ongoing teacher contract negotiations, and said, “I’d hate… to go toward what is inevitably a grievance and beyond.” She encouraged the school district to “do what you can to keep people you’ve trained.”
Committee member Walter Derosier asked to speak before the question was voted on by the committee.
He said “The contract dictates how we move forward. [The school committee] has been assured by the administration that the criteria [for a RIF] have been met. It’s not an easy task, but it’s a task we’ve volunteered to do.”
A retired teacher, Claire Colgan, who was in the audience during the meeting said she was surprised, after two teachers stood up at the beginning of the meeting with concerns and comments, that there was no committee discussion about alternate options or any attempts made to address those concerns.
“I have nothing against the probationary [math] teacher,” said Colgan. “She is a former student of mine. But I didn’t understand why there was no discussion.”
After the vote, McDermott also expressed confusion about the committee’s decision. She said she is planning to pursue the matter further.
McDermott admitted she doesn’t necessarily understand the ins and outs of scheduling, and she understands the subject field in which one or more teachers will be laid off is determined by the contract.
“I don’t have an issue with [Superintendent Terry Wood] doing her job and deciding the impact area to be cut,” she said.
She added, “In this particular case, she knew she was cutting a more experienced teacher. I’d like to ask her why. I think a lot of people are wondering. I’m sure she has a reason, but I don’t know what that reason is.”
In an interview after the meeting, Superintendent Wood said the conflict has risen out of what is essentially a flaw in language in the teacher’s contracts which determines who gets RIF’d.
She said the problem in this case has also risen because teachers are lacking “displacement or bumping rights in the contract,” meaning that a veteran teacher is unable to “bump” a probationary teacher in another impact area.
“We followed the contract, and did our due diligence,” she said.
Committee Chair Yves Dube added, “We believe we followed the guidelines and rules to do what was the right thing.”
Both Dube and a source who chose to remain anonymous said teacher contract negotiations in the district had been going on for years. Dube indicated that the negotiations had begun last year; the source said they had begun in June 2010.
“It’s been tough on both sides,” said Dube. “Both sides are ready to put this behind them.”
The committee will draft a letter to the MEA tonight, he said, “telling them where we stand on the current [contract] proposal on the table. They’ll have it for their [MEA] meeting,” Dube said.
This meeting is scheduled for May 8 at 3 p.m.
Dube declined to describe where the committee stands with regard to the teacher’s contract proposal, citing a need to see if the teachers accept the proposal or refuse it before divulging that information to the press or the public.
“There are other contingencies that might be put forth,” he said.