Letter to the Editor: Still paying for the lawyer
We all make choices—hundreds each day. What to wear, what to eat, who to support. The recent choice made by the RSU 58 School Board calls into question where its priorities lie. The School Board chose to pay lawyers more money instead of supporting its hard-working dedicated Mt. Abram teachers who educate our students each day. The choice came after a fact finding process, which was conducted by an independent panel, ruled to support teachers and their contract proposal. Now, the community should know the Board made another choice to spend more of your tax dollars on lawyers to fight the independent ruling, even though that’s not what the community wants.
At the budget meeting last spring, our community voted almost unanimously to significantly reduce the legal fee line in the budget. The motion was not intended to oppose all legal fees. Instead, it was
aimed at the recent practice of hiring an expensive Portland lawyer to conduct contract negotiations, something school boards around the state do all the time without the help of an attorney. More than 100 people voted in favor of the amendment, while only a handful opposed it.
It is appropriate for the Board to seek legal counsel on important issues and it is in everyone's best interest that the contract reflects the law; it should also reflect the Board's priorities. However, is it necessary for the Board to hire a lawyer to do the actual negotiating? What would have been a reasonable consulting fee now exceeds $100,000! For years Board members have negotiated the contract with advice from the district's lawyer at no major cost to the taxpayers. Why has the Board abandoned this method?
We can’t change the fact that the checks are cashed and the money has entered the Portland-area economy rather than our own. Now that the Board has filed for Arbitration taxpayers can expect to foot the bill for more legal fees expected to be in the tens of thousands of dollars, all because it didn’t like the ruling from an independent panel. That’s like a child asking Mommy for a cookie, then when she says no asking Daddy to see if he can get a different answer. Is that really how adults should act at taxpayer expense?
Mt. Abram teachers don’t think so. They remain willing and eager to accept the Fact-Finding report, which stays within the budget, and negotiate directly and freely with the Board, at no additional cost to taxpayers. In other words; teachers have already agreed to meet the Board's cost limits. How can the Board justify spending more money on a legal battle instead of educating our children? It's a question only the MSAD 58 Board can answer; hopefully, we aren't the only ones asking the question.
Mt. Abram Teacher's Association