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SVSU school boards vote to impose contract on teachers

June 20, 2011
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — School boards within the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union voted unanimously Monday to impose a retroactive contract on teachers that covers the year ending on June 30.

 

The contract imposed by the boards — Bennington School District, Mount Anthony Union, Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School, North Bennington, Pownal and Shaftsbury — took immediate effect Monday.

Each board voted to impose a contract after entering a joint, 50-minute executive session. It is the first time in 22 years that such an action has been taken, according to officials.

Raymond Mullineaux, chairman of the North Bennington Prudential Committee, member of the SVSU board and a school board negotiator, said teachers did not agree to a final contract offered by the boards on June 6.

“They rejected our last, best offer,” he said.

Teachers could now decide to strike or return to the negotiating table and seek agreement on a contract for the 2011-12 school year. The imposed contract changes the starting point for negotiations, however.

“It will be a new negotiation and everything is on the table. The difference is that they’ll be negotiating from the terms that have been imposed,” said Steve Stitzel, an attorney for the SVSU that has been negotiating on the boards’ behalf.

Negotiators for the teachers could not be reached Monday evening.

Mullineaux said the school boards and teachers remain divided over three main issues — the amount of health care premiums the boards will pay, how much of the school day is under the control of administrators, and salaries.

The imposed contract includes pay increases that are smaller for most teachers than the contract they had been working under.

However, teachers will not be asked to give back the difference.

“They received the higher amount and we’re not asking for any of that money back,” said Stitzel.

Teachers have been working under a contract that expired at the end of June 2010. The school boards and teachers exchanged their first contract proposals in February 2010 and held several negotiating sessions. They entered mediation in September 2010, and agreed to a third-party fact-finding report in February of this year. The report was delivered in April and lead to the final offer by the school boards on June 6.

Under the imposed contract, most teachers will see about a $700 salary increase. Under the previous, expired contract, some newer teachers would have seen salary increases of about $1,400, while the most experienced teachers would have seen no increase.

Under the imposed contract, teachers will pay for more of their health care premiums. The boards had proposed an increase over a three-year period that would have teachers pay 20 percent of the premiums, up from 15 percent. The imposed contract immediately jumps the teachers’ share to 20 percent.

The imposed contract also gives more control of the work day to administrators at the middle and high school level. Stitzel said teachers at the middle school will see the amount of direct contact minutes — the time they spend with students — jump from 240 minutes to 300 minutes out of the 450-minute work day.

Teachers at the high school will see their direct contact minutes increase from 250 to 300, according to Stitzel. Elementary school teachers have already been working under such conditions.

Stitzel said the changes do not lengthen the work day, but allow administrators more leeway in dictating how teachers spend their time.

Mullineaux said the increased time teachers spend with students is intended to improve student achievement at the middle and high school level.

“We need to see changes at the secondary level in terms of the performance of our children. They need to be doing better. We should expect them to be doing better, and if this area is going to prosper economically, they have to do better,” he said. “But, what we would have been continuing is a contract under which … we have not been able to improve that level of achievement very much. We have to try and change something.”

Sean-Marie Oller, chairwoman of the Mount Anthony Union board, said board members are hopeful that teachers will continue to negotiate.

“We’re always concerned about a strike, but we’re hoping that we can come back to the table right away and make some progress, possibly before school starts, on a one, two- or even three-year contract moving forward,” Oller said.

Under state law, Stitzel said, the contract imposed Monday will remain in effect until a successor agreement can be reached. Had the boards not acted before June 30, the previous, expired contract would have remained in place. However, Stitzel said teachers were unlikely to continue under those terms.

“At some point they would have gone out on strike under the old contract,” he said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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