Students at Portland High School, above, the city's two other high schools, and its middle schools will start classes later than they did in pre-pandemic years beginning next school year, in an effort to align with recommendations about how much sleep adolescents need. (Portland Phoenix/Elizabeth Clemente)
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More than a year since the last contract expired, Portland’s education technicians and the school district have a new agreement. 

The contract, which runs retroactively from September 2021 through to the end of August 2024, was unanimously approved by the School Board at last week’s meeting on Oct. 18. 

Jennifer Cooper, the ed-tech union’s president, said the union was pleased to have settled the contract, but indicated there was still work to do to adequately compensate them.

“We look forward to continuing the work to make a livable wage for the many staff who support the students every day,” Cooper said.

Portland and other Maine school districts have experienced a statewide shortage of ed techs. The Maine Education Association, the state teachers’ union, advocated to the legislature for better pay for ed techs and other school workers last year. The Portland ed techs union has followed suit, pushing for higher wages to fill critical staffing needs.

The shortage of ed techs and educators in general persists statewide, said MEA president Grace Leavitt. Pay is one issue that needs to be addressed, she added, as is respect for educators and recognition of how important their role is.

The salary for ed-techs has different levels depending on prior experience. Previously, salaries ranged anywhere from just over $15 to $26 an hour. Now it will scale slightly each year for the next three years, eventually reaching $16.20 at the lowest starting rate, and ranging up to $28.11 for the highest possible starting rate. The contract also adds two additional workshop days starting next school year, and incorporates two more holidays.

Though pleased with the agreement, Cooper and other officials at the board meeting said the goal remains to provide ed techs a more livable wage. Ed techs working in Portland Public Schools during the 2023-2024 school year would need about nine years of experience at the minimum to start at $19.74 an hour.

According to a Living Wage Calculator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the hourly rate for a livable wage in Cumberland County for someone with no children is $19.75. 

School Board Chair Emily Figdor said she hopes to continue working toward the same goal, adding that ed techs are “the glue” that holds the district’s work together.

The contract resolution comes at a pivotal time for PPS. The district is still struggling with staffing more broadly, which has led to ed techs voicing concerns that staff were finding themselves in unsafe scenarios.

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