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Teachers, SVSU continue contract process

May 2, 2011

NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Differences holding up a new contract between local teachers and the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union were made public Friday in a fact-finding report as the one-year mark approaches since the previous contract expired.

Teachers in the Mount Anthony Union school district and five area elementary schools are represented by the Southwest Vermont Education Association, a branch of the Vermont NEA. The union and the administration have already entered into mediation, and both sides agreed to the fact-finding report on their contract desires.

A previous collective bargaining agreement expired last June 30, but teachers have continued to work under the terms of the previous deal. A hearing was held on Feb. 9 by the fact-finder, John B. Cochran of the American Arbitrators Association, prior to his report, which seemed to largely favor the positions of the union.

The report recommends and rejects ideas from both sides. On the question of salary, however, Cochran sought the middle ground. The proposal by the school board members in the SVSU would allow for a 1.42 percent overall salary increase among teachers in the bargaining unit. The union’s proposal would raise total salaries by 5.8 percent,
an amount that “appears overly generous in the current economic climate,” Cochran wrote.

Instead, he recommend a salary system that would allow for total salaries to rise by 2.8 percent through a combination of step increases and across-the-board raises.

Meanwhile, an SVSU proposal to allow the superintendent to issue oral or written reprimands or a suspension of up to 10 days without a grievance process was rejected by Cochran.

The idea would save time and money, he wrote, but would “effectively nullify just cause,” according to Cochran.

“Just cause is a basic and almost universal standard employers are required to satisfy before imposing discipline, and one that is contained in the contracts for all comparable school districts in Southern Vermont,” he wrote.

Cochran also recommended against a proposal by board members to require teachers to provide copies of all documents alleging criminal conduct on their part, and the disposition of charges. He said the proposal was “overly broad.”

Cochran also sided with teachers against raising their share of dental, life and long-term disability insurance from 10 percent to 20 percent. The current 10 percent contribution is the average for
teachers in the area, he said.

Moving the deadline earlier for notification of retirement and intent to cash in unused sick time from Feb. 15 to Jan. 6 was supported by Cochran. He said the idea makes sense for annual budget purposes.

An extension of the work day from 7.5 hours to eight hours a day, without compensation, was also rejected by Cochran.

Stephanie Peters, president of the local union, said the fact-finding report is “what a reasonable, rational person would think.”

“It was your very typical work day, salary and employment rights. There wasn’t anything that was unusual,” she said.

Union and SVSU negotiators will meet again soon, Peters said, to again try to bridge differences.

There are three potential outcomes. The parties can accept the report, accept a mutually agreed upon alternative or declare that a settlement cannot be reached.

After 40 days from the release of the report there are three possibilities: The two parties can agree to continue negotiations; the boards can impose their final position; or the union can hold a vote on whether or not to strike.

Peters said negotiations have so far not been contentious. She declined to comment on possible outcomes.

“It’s premature for me to say anything. We’re committed to working out an agreement and that’s the premise that we’re working under,” Peters said. “I think we are having very respectful negotiations. It is never an easy process.”

Steven Stitzel, the SVSU attorney who is negotiating on their behalf, could not be reached Monday.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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