Burlington School Board declares contract talks impasse

BURLINGTON — The Board of School Commissioners has declared an impasse in its contract negotiations with the Burlington Education Association, the union representing teachers in the district.

Declaring an impasse will allow the two sides to bring in a mediator and fact finder to help broker a new contract. The school board and the union reached a one-year contract last October only after mediation.

The current contract ends in July.

“The Board is very sensitive to the community’s desire that we complete negotiations before school starts in late August. To do this, we need mediation to begin as soon as possible in order to reach a quality agreement,” said Stephanie Seguino, school board vice chair, in a statement Friday announcing the impasse.

Union President Fran Brock said Friday that the impasse is not unexpected and the teachers bargaining unit looks forward to the mediation process. In the meantime, both sides said they hope to keep negotiating.

School Board Chair Mark Porter said the crux of negotiations surround the teachers’ request for salary increases of almost 7.7 percent. Of that, 5.7 percent would go directly toward salary, and 2 percent would go to retirement benefits, according to Porter.

The board is offering a half of one percent salary increase for the upcoming contract, Porter said in the statement.

Brock declined to confirm those numbers. She said she felt the board was trying to bait her and the union to negotiate through the press. She added: “people become too focused on the number and it becomes very myopic.”

“We need and want a contract that will attract and retain the teachers we need to provide the quality education to the children of Burlington,” Brock said.

Porter said providing the salary increase the teachers want, along with other proposals from the union, would require serious cuts to programs, or a 9 percent tax increase.

Brock said she appreciates concerns over property taxes increasing, but she said the issue that should be addressed through changes to state policy, not at the district level — and not on the backs of Burlington teachers.

As Vermont’s largest city, Burlington has special education, English language learning and social service costs that exceed other districts. However, the state restrictions governing how those programs can be paid for are the same for Burlington as smaller districts.

“If you look at school districts across the state, we have a much more diverse population, and the requirement to meet the needs of such a socio-economically mixed community is different from what many of the other districts have,” Brock said.

The fact finding and mediation process could begin as early as April.

Morgan True

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