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Maine House Narrowly Approves $16-An-Hour Minimum Wage For School Workers

Maine schools COVID-19
Robert F. Bukaty
Social studies teacher Logan Landry looks over the shoulder of seventh grader Simone Moore as she works on a project while seated next to a cutout of Elvis Presley at the Bruce M. Whittier Middle School, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, in Poland, Maine.

The Maine House of Representatives has approved a measure requiring that all public school workers, from teacher aides to kitchen staff, be paid a minimum wage of $16-an-hour. Under current law, the minimum salary for teachers is $40,000 a year.

In one of the closet votes of the session, the House gave initial approval by a margin of of 73-71. Supporters argued that school workers are underpaid and deserve a minimum wage that will incentivize them to remain in those positions. Portland Democrat Mike Sylvester supported the bill.

“It’s time we reward those people, it’s time that we insure that we get the best people in those positions, and that they stay and make a career," Sylvester says.

Opponents say the mandates are unaffordable for many school districts, particularly those in rural areas. They also question the fairness of giving one group a minimum wage for which many other workers in Maine don't qualify.

"Can you imagine if you are in a small community, and your school staff is making $16 an hour, and the people in the community who have to pay that are not making that? Are we going to start picking out special groups for higher minimum wage?" says Rep. Richard Bradstreet, R-Vassalboro.

The state Senate has yet to consider the measure.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.