South Burlington school board rejects fact-finder recommendations

SOUTH BURLINGTON — The school board is rejecting the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder in contract negotiations with the local teachers’ union.

Negotiations between the board and the South Burlington Education Association began in the fall and are at an impasse.

In a statement, the board said that while some of the recommendations may inform negotiations going forward, they are rejecting them because “the fact-finder’s suggestions do not sufficiently advance the board’s goals.”

The board took particular issue with fact-finder Ira Lobel’s decision to consider the salary, benefits and working conditions in other Chittenden County districts, instead of focusing on “South Burlington’s unique situation,” according to a news release.

“The board’s assertion that salaries, benefits and working conditions in other districts are somehow irrelevant to our contract negotiations in South Burlington is absurd,” said Rich Wise, president of the South Burlington Education Association.

Wise, a biology teacher at South Burlington High School, said the board should consider conditions in other districts if it wants to maintain a high-quality education for South Burlington students.

However, Wise said he too took issue with some of the fact-finder’s recommendations, especially on salary, sick time and health care.

In a report issued 10 days ago, Lobel recommended increasing pay for teachers by 2.5 percent for the first year and by 2.75 percent in following years.

“This should provide teachers with an acceptable settlement and keep their salaries at the high end of comparable salaries in the state. It should also be affordable to the district,” the fact-finder wrote.

The union sought about 5 percent per year, while the school board has offered about 1.5 percent per year, according to the report.

South Burlington has more than 2,400 students and approximately 245 teachers. The contract expired on June 30.

The fact-finder recommended that the district pay 80 percent of health care premiums for teachers and offer them payments to offset their costs. Lobel said he was trying to take into consideration legislation that calls for penalizing districts if they do not get teachers to pay 80 percent of the costs. Currently, South Burlington pays approximately 83 percent of the health care premiums for teachers, according to the report.

“I have attempted to balance the interest of the employees, the School District and the citizens of the community. The two budget defeats in South Burlington and the recent legislation passed by the Statehouse and signed by the Governor made this task extremely difficult,” Lobel wrote.

Districts across the state are negotiating one-year contracts in anticipation of new health care plans that take effect next year, which will have higher out-of-pocket costs. Wise said those changes to health care need to be considered in negotiations over salaries and other benefits.

Both sides said they will continue to negotiate in good faith and hope to have a contract in place before summer ends.

For the full fact finder’s report click here.

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  • Nate Wendt

    The purpose of comparing this district to others is logical. Not only will you be competing with other locations for qualified teachers, but also considering what is standard for the area. I am confused as to what makes SB’s district unique? School boards do have to consider budget, but by rejecting recommendations on the basis of the fact-finders analysis using information gathered through a valid process baffles me.

    • Edward Letourneau

      SB has a higher salary scale then just about any other town in the state. The union is just being greedy.

      • Nate Wendt

        If anything, the evaluation should have noted that and presented it. Is there a place in which this neutral auditor has posted the evaluation? I really like see it.

        • Edward Letourneau

          I’m on a school board. We are always told who much other districts pay. In the case of SB, they are at the top of the scale. And when you figure retirement into their pay (50% for the top 3 years of earning), every one of them is earning over 100K a year, for 3.5 hours of daily work, over 9 months a year. — Its a really good gig, and sucking the taxpayer dry.

          • Nate Wendt

            I see,

            Then honestly, I can see why they should avoid giving any increases to this years contract. If they are the top earning school, I would say that no changes be made.

  • Dave Bellini

    Why hire a neutral party if the plan is to ignore him?

    • It’s somewhat more nuanced. The teacher labor relations law is in 16 VSA, and stipulates that it takes only one party to the negotiations requesting a fact finder for that to become a necessary step. It’s possible for instance, but I don’t know, that the teacher’s asked for the fact finder. In which case the school board would have had to participate in that process.

      See 16 VSA § 2007 – “Fact-finding committee”, link:

  • Gerry Silverstein

    Like most of America, Vermont and its many communities either are ignorant of, or intentionally choose to ignore, current and long-term economic realities and trends. Currently the State of Vermont depends upon the federal government for 35% of its operating budget, including $125-250 million for education.

    The current accumulated debt of the federal government is $20 Trillion dollars. The federal debt held by the public to GDP ratio, an economic figure commonly used by economists to assess fiscal stability (or lack thereof) is now 77%. That figures represents more than a doubling from 2005.

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, the agency in Washington that liberal Democrats now hold in highest regard, current trends dictate that the ratio will rise to 89% in 2027 (meaning the aggregate debt of the government held by the public is approximately equal to the sum of all good and services in the economy), and will increase to 150% in 2047. Both former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke and current Fed Chair Janet Yellen have stated unequivocally debt level trends are unsustainable and, unless corrected, will have severe consequences.

    The federal government will be forced in the very near future to reduce money sent to “dependent” States like Vermont. When that happens the State will have little choice but to reduce spending (especially in education) and that will put School Boards, School systems, and citizen taxpayers in a very difficult situation. Better to act now to control spending than to wait and have it forced upon Vermont communities.

    Bravo to the SB (and Burlington) School Board for taking a stand that says we have listened to the community and understand the importance of acting in a fiscally prudent manner.

  • Steve Baker

    Like many negotiations with union employees, they want to cloud the issue with what’s happening in other areas. Who’s to say the surrounding area’s are doing things correctly and for the benefit of the taxpayer? Just because a town in the surrounding area chooses to overpay does that mean South Burlington should overpay? And of course we will hear the siren sound of “we need quality teachers” but that’s been proven wrong over the last three decades as we flood public education with more and more money and get less and less results.
    Of course the other alternative is teachers are free to go teach in those other areas if they would like rather than suffer from the draconian benefit being offered by the South Burlington board.

  • How so?

    • Peter Chick

      Nothing like the threat of strike only weeks before school starts to stress every family with school age children. Your union tactics are too predictable.

  • Robert M Gifford

    2400 Students and 245 teachers? That is less then 10 kids per teacher. Really? What happened since I was in public school 40 years ago when class sizes were over 20 kids for one teacher in everyone of my classes? Seems like the root cause of the high cost of education is the number of teachers in the system. Why do we now need twice as many highly qualified individuals who are doing half the work teachers did in 1975?

    • Edward Letourneau

      We have twice as many because most of the teacher contracts specify they only have to teach (student contact) for 3.5 hours a day, even though they get paid for 7 hours per day, and the administrators can’t tell them what to do (assign them) for the other 3.5 hours. Its scam and doesn’t improve education outcomes (graduation rates) by any significant amount.