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SVSU teachers hope to keep negotiating

June 22, 2011
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — Local teachers have not discussed the possibility of a strike and hope to resume contract negotiations following a decision by Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union boards Monday to impose a contract, a teachers’ union official said Tuesday.

 

Darren Allen, spokesman for the Vermont-NEA, which represents local teachers in the SVSU, said local union negotiators are disappointed with the decision made by six local school boards to impose a contract.

“The teachers remain committed to reaching a mutually agreed upon contract, despite the fact that the board decided to walk away,” Allen said. “They are hopeful that meetings over the summer will result in a contract that is fair to them, good for the schools and good for the students.

“Their door is open. They are not only willing and able to negotiate, they encourage the board to come back to the table. An imposition is rare. It should be rare. It shows the boards’ willingness to just walk away,” Allen said.

The contract imposed Monday is “not fair” because it unilaterally imposes higher health insurance premiums on teachers and results in “either stagnant pay or pay cuts for some members,” Allen said.

“It’s not a way to treat the professionals that are entrusted with the education of children in southwest Vermont,” he said.

The six boards — Bennington School District, Mount Anthony Union, Southwest Vermont Regional Technical School, North Bennington, Pownal and Shaftsbury — each voted unanimously to impose a retroactive contract for the current year that ends June 30 after a joint, 50-minute executive session Monday. It is the first time in 22 years that such an action has been taken, according to officials.

School board officials said the votes were cast only after the union rejected their best final offer earlier this month.

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.

The 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.

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.

Teachers will also pay for more of their health care premiums. In the final offer, the boards had proposed an increase over a three-year period that would have teachers pay 20 percent of health care 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. Elementary school teachers have already been working under such conditions.

Allen said imposition of a contract by the boards was not a complete surprise because negotiators for the board had canceled previously scheduled negotiating meetings.

“That obviously has frustrated the teachers. You can’t reach an agreement if you don’t show up to the table,” he said. “I think (the teachers) probably saw signs. Usually, when there are cancellations of bargaining sessions it doesn’t bode well.”

Allen said talk of a potential strike is “premature” and has yet to be discussed among the union membership. Rather, the union is hoping “to just get everybody back to the table and hammer out a deal,” he said.

“All the teachers have really talked about is getting back to the table. That said, all of the options are on the table,” Allen said. “The teachers’ last option is to declare a strike. The teachers want to be in the classroom. They’ve proven that by working for a year without a contract.”

Allen said the teachers’ negotiating group plans to regroup this week and hopes to resume negotiations with the school boards soon.

“I am certain that the union does not want to start another school year without a contract,” he said.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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