In a tersely worded statement, the faculty union at the University of Vermont criticized the South Burlington school board for imposing a contract on their teachers.
“The Executive Council of United Academics vigorously objects to the South Burlington School Board’s decision to try to impose a contract on their teachers unilaterally, forcing the teachers of South Burlington to choose between going on strike or accepting a contract they find in their best judgement to be unreasonable,” the statement reads.
Thomas Streeter, the head of the union, said the school board is being disrespectful of the collective bargaining process. The UVM teachers union said they support the process, according to Streeter, who added they were “not taking a stand on specific points of disagreement but taking a stand on the process which is a valuable one.”
But Martin LaLonde, a South Burlington school board member who has been on the negotiating team, said the board’s action doesn’t upset the collective bargaining process; instead, he said it is part of it. After following all the rules that guide bargaining, the two sides are still too far apart and the school year is starting, he said.
“We followed the process outlined in statute in Vermont that prevents endless year round negotiations. It provides the board with a tool to bring the negotiations to a closure, and we certainly want to have that occur before the school year starts and not have this drag on without a contract,” he said.
The board and teachers still have to move onto next year’s contract, according to LaLonde, who is also a Democratic state representative.
But, Streeter said that by imposing a contract the teachers union is forced to strike if it wants to continue bargaining. He said a better option would be to follow the State Employee Labor Relations Act that allows for impasse resolution and mediation and fact finding, without a strike.
Noah Everitt, spokesman for the South Burlington teachers union, said they appreciate the UVM faculty union’s support. “We are really happy they are joining us and calling for the board to come back to negotiations we are really hopeful we can still partner with the school board to reach a settlement.”
Everitt said the school board can reopen negotiations any time. “We are meeting next week to discuss all the options on the table. We really believe it is important for this community and the students given the struggles we have had here this last year that we model what it means to be a teacher both inside and out.”
On the eve of the first day of school, the South Burlington school board voted this week to impose salary and other contract terms on teachers after ten months of bargaining failed to produce a compromise.
The terms of the one-year contract the board imposed include an average salary increase of $1,679 and will have teachers pay the same amount toward health care as they did last year, according to a statement from the school board.
The South Burlington Educators’ Association, the local union, is considering going on strike, but would prefer to return to the table, according to Rich Wise, a co-president of the union.
LaLonde insists the terms that were imposed are fair particularly when taken in the context of two failed budgets and nearly half a million dollars the state will not be sending to South Burlington as part of Act 85 that expects localities to negotiate favorable teacher health care terms.