An Open Letter to the Board of Directors and the Communities of MSAD #58

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

It is with the deepest regret that I announce my resignation from my position of Mathematics Teacher at Mt. Abram High School, effective August 21, 2015. I have had 23 wonderful years teaching at Mt. Abram, and one year that has effectively closed the door for me to continue in this job.

Many people, following my statement to the school board on April 30th, concluded that I was unhappy with the salary and benefits in this district. It is perhaps pointless to say this, but I will re-iterate what I said at the budget meeting on May 28th: I know this district cannot afford to pay me what I am worth. I have taught here for 24 years knowing that I could have made a lot more money, either in another district, or in another occupation. I did not go into this job for the money; rather, I have been a teacher at Mt. Abram High School for all of these years because I love this area. I wanted to bring my knowledge and expertise in mathematics to the young people of Northern Franklin county, believing that they deserve as good of an education as students in wealthy communities.

The Board of Directors of MSAD 58 have some wonderful people serving who truly care about education and the students. However, the actions of the Board as a whole communicate a different story. Specifically, in February 2014 the Board of Directors made a decision about the teaching load of the faculty at Mt. Abram High School without any discussion about the impact of such a decision with the faculty, nor with any apparent discussion of the actual educational value. This was done in an attempt to “develop a schedule that takes into consideration the need for more advanced courses, supplemental math, supplemental reading courses, and other electives that would challenge our advanced students, aid our struggling students obtain a standards based diploma, and help graduating students find employment in the workforce.

This decision, made with no input from the teachers, resulted in a schedule that was impossible to build. Although administrators tried multiple times, it was not possible to build a schedule that allowed for “half blocks” for teachers to teach, or students to be assigned to. The end result was a schedule that had teachers instructing 7 periods out of 8 in one semester, and 6 out of 8 in the alternate semester. To accomplish this directive of the Board it required, among other things, AP students to have one semester of a double block (2 ½ hours) of their AP course, and the opposing semester to have a single block (75 minutes.) This schedule also created more conflicts in the master schedule, which means it resulted in MORE students enrolled in study hall during the second semester than the previous year. Perhaps most importantly, this teaching schedule mandated by the school board resulted in ZERO additional learning time for students. Prior to this schedule change, students had 8 blocks of instructional time to choose from. Following this schedule change, students STILL had 8 blocks of instructional time to choose from.

This spring the teachers at Mt. Abram High School, in collaboration and with the support of the administrators, put together a proposal as requested by the board during belated negotiations concerning the extra teaching time. That proposal would have met the goals of the board stated above as discussed during the February 2014 director’s meeting. The teacher’s plan would have provided over 50 hours of additional learning time for every student (almost half a period over the course of the school year) and it would have made better use of the Mountain Time period in the middle of the day.

On April 16th, Principal Marco Aliberti presented to the school board this proposed schedule change. It was imperative that a decision be rendered quickly, as student sign ups for courses for the next year were on hold until this proposal was settled. The board correctly decided that they were obligated to meet with the teachers in a formal “Meet and Consult,” as this schedule would result in a change of working conditions, and Maine Labor Law requires such a meeting.

On April 30th, the teachers of Mt. Abram met with the school board prior to the board meeting for the “Meet and Consult” session to discuss the proposed alternative schedule. All the teachers that I have spoken with were of the opinion that it was a productive meeting, with good discussion and questions. In fact, I would say that we were optimistic about the results. Knowing it was critical for a decision, and knowing that it was on the agenda for the meeting to follow, I was hopeful that this schedule might be considered and even immediately implemented. I was frankly shocked, then, when that point in the agenda arrived to hear the chair state that this had already been discussed prior to the meeting, and then move on to the next item with no decision.

The May 14th board meeting was the final straw for me. Although the agenda called for a presentation about some changes to the high school course of studies, the board raised the question about the schedule change proposed by the teachers two weeks prior. After making a motion to adopt the proposed change to the middle of the day, and then having that motion rescinded, the board chose to make no decision. This had the effect of keeping the schedule the same, regardless of the information showing that requiring high school teachers to teach 6.5 classes does not meet their stated goals. The next day I mailed my application packet to a nearby district.

What I have found most troubling through all of this is that these decisions, which CLEARLY impact students and student learning, are being made with no regard to the input of the professional educators. We as teachers are the ones who see the students day by day. We know their struggles, we know their weaknesses, and we are constantly reflecting either personally or with others about how to improve their education. Nor do we limit ourselves to those within our buildings; teachers talk to colleagues in other districts to find better ways of meeting student needs. All of this experience, however, was ignored by the Board of Directors.

There is a seriously flawed assumption among many in our communities about the teacher’s job. “Teachers work less than 8 hours a day” and “teachers only work 180 days of the year” are common statements made by individuals who believe that teachers are overpaid and underworked. The flawed assumption is that teachers are hourly employees. To the contrary, teachers are salaried employees. This means that they are paid an agreed-upon sum of money to do an agreed-upon job. If this requires me to put in time before 7:45 AM or after 3:00 PM, then that time is part of my time on the job. When I put in time on the weekends grading papers, or in the summer taking courses, that too is part of the time on the job.

Unfortunately, this flawed assumption that we are hourly employees has forced teachers into a position of defending how much time they spend both inside and outside of the school day. Such should not happen. In fact, I have found myself saying that these hours are extra time that I am not paid for. This is actually not true. When I signed the contract to teach, it was for an agreed-upon job description.

In my statement that I read aloud at the Board meeting on April 30th, I mentioned that I had given testimony at a Maine Labor Relations Board hearing in March with regards to the extra teaching period. I made reference to the testimony by the board representative. I now have a transcript of the actual hearing, and there are two quotes that are worth mentioning, keeping in mind that this testimony was given under oath:

  • When asked “Did you feel as a Board member that a financial resolution to the study hall monitor issue was an appropriate–is that something that you can support?”, the board representative answered “No, not me, and I think I can speak that a lot of the Board was also not interested in that. The Board feels that salary employees are paid for the time that they are at their job and not necessarily for exactly what they do within the hours that they’re at the place of work.”
  • When asked by one of the hearing officers “You testified at one point that they were salaried employees and you felt because they were salaried they weren’t entitled to any additional compensation for that time, or did I understand that correctly?”, the board representative answered “A salary employee is paid for the time that they’re at their job, and what duties fall within that time period are determined by the Board.”

This is the fundamental issue for me as to why I can no longer work in this district. A salaried employee is paid, by definition, for the entire job they are doing. This includes time within the day, as well as time outside of the day. For 24 years as a teacher, and for my entire life growing up, I have observed the teaching profession and watched teachers put in countless hours OUTSIDE of the scheduled school day.

The rationale of the board to justify removing planning time boils down to the belief that they can assign whatever duties they wish during the school day. (In all fairness, upon further pressing by the hearing officer, the board representative DID agree that there were some limitations.) To hear that the board feels that our pay is ONLY for the time we are in school, completely re-defines the job. I cannot, from 7:45 AM – 3:00 PM, do a quality job as a teacher. And if I cannot do a quality job, then I will not continue being a shadow of a teacher, just filling the classroom with a body.

Many people believe that high school teachers “do not need 75 minutes of planning time” each day. The people I have heard stating this opinion also do not have any idea about the demands of state mandates, specifically the law requiring Proficiency Based Diplomas. Nor do they seem to recognize how important it is for teachers to have time to meet with students to assist them, to plan the next instructional lessons based on results from the assessments just taken, or to have time to talk to parents about how their students are progressing.

It appears that the board has failed to understand that when they assign an additional class to be taught, they are changing the understanding of what teachers are paid for. If we have been paid, for 15 years, for teaching 6 classes out of 8, to arbitrarily change this is no different than when a contractor gives a quote for a job which is accepted, but then once the job begins the client adds on to the specs of the job and expects it to be done for the original amount.

Because many people will attribute my resignation to the stalled contract negotiations, I wish to re-emphasize, once again, that my departure is NOT about the contract (or lack thereof), the amount of my salary, or the insurance. It is about my inability to work for a board and a community that appears to care nothing for quality education, ignores the recommendations of the professionals they have hired, changes the working conditions without consideration of the educational impact, and as a result demonstrate a lack of caring about the education of the students within our district.

To my students, I offer my sincerest apologies that this situation has reached this point. Although I feel that I personally could not have done anything differently, I also know that you will be hurt the most by the situation within our community. Please try to understand the reasons for my departure, and please hold on to the hope that things will improve. Make every effort to be successful, no matter how discouraging things may seem. There WILL be a light at the end of the dark tunnel you are now facing.

Respectfully Submitted,

Brian Signature

Brian A. Twitchell.

2 Comments

  1. Becca says:

    Mr. Twitchell-
    I was your student for a year in 2004-2005 for Algebra. I am so very saddened that it is not the passage of time that will prevent you from teaching my nephew and nieces but the inability for a community to come together and support what is undoubtedly our most important asset: our children.
    While I failed your class back in 2005, you did not fail me. you took time out of your planning periods to assist me with concepts (I remember Slope in particular) that I couldn’t find a way to grasp in the, then, 70 minutes I was in your classroom with 16 of my peers. I have always and will continue to be incredibly grateful for this.
    I wish you so much luck in your new position and am terribly saddened that I will not see you the next time I stop into Mount Abram to say hello.

  2. Rhonda coffren says:

    Thank you Mr. Twittchell for all you have done for our students

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