Education

Burlington school board imposes work terms on teachers’ union

school bus
A Burlington city school bus at the district headquarters. Photo by Jess Wisloski/VTDigger.

BURLINGTON — For the second consecutive year school board imposed terms on the teachers’ union after months of stalled negotiations failed to yield a contract.

The Burlington School Board voted to impose terms early Friday morning after marathon negotiations that began Thursday failed to yield a compromise, and the current contract expired at midnight.

Burlington is the second district in Chittenden County to impose terms on its teachers’ union following South Burlington, [where the school board voted to impose terms earlier this week]. Several other districts in the county have yet to settle contracts for the current fiscal year.

The imposition of work conditions last year in Burlington very nearly resulted in a strike by the district’s more than 400 teachers, with the two sides reaching a one year deal hours before a strike was set to begin in October 2016, and raises the possibility of a strike again this year.

“Just as we said last year, we will not accept imposition,” said Burlington Education Association President Fran Brock in a statement. “It is demeaning and disrespectful. It represents a dereliction of duty by the School Board and a failure of the administration to constructively advise the board on how district funds can be allocated to support instruction and student-directed programming.”

Brock said the BEA will meet on September 7 to discuss its options going forward.

This year, contract negotiations between the board and the BEA began in February, and the two sides declared an impasse in mid-March. A report from a neutral fact-finder failed to help reach a deal, with the board rejecting elements of that report.

The imposed terms provide teachers with an average salary increase of $1,700 and pass some of the savings from changing to lower cost health plans on to teachers in lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs, according to a news release from the board.

The board’s news release said that salary increases for teachers and property tax rates for residents have far outsripped average wage growth in Vermont over the last decade. Paying teachers more would require siphoning money from programs and services for students, they said.

“In the context of student needs and the ability of the community to fund public education, the contract terms set by the board are fair and reasonable,” said Board Chair Mark Porter in a statement.

In it’s own news release, the union lamented the fact that the board walked away from negotiations when the two sides were relatively close to an agreement. They were less than 1 percent apart on salary increases, and teachers had agreed to accept “close to what the fact-finder and Gov. Phil Scott sought for health insurance contributions,” according to the union.

Teacher compensation as a percentage of overall spending by the district has shrunk by 4 percent over the last two years, according to the BEA, and the terms imposed block an elementary school schedule intended to give teachers more prep time.

Brock and the union laid much of the blame for the breakdown of negotiations at Superintendant Yaw Obeng’s feet. “The board is getting bad advice from administrative leadership, who do not seem to understand the best practices of teaching and learning,” Brock said.

However, Board Member Mark Barlow, a member of the board’s negotiating team, said in a statement that continued talks would be unproductive: “When negotiations stall, it can be tempting to simply to continue meet and talk. But if there is no sign that negotiations are really moving toward a mutually acceptable compromise on the issues, continued negotiations have very real costs for the community.”

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