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.