Scott: Teachers unions, school boards need to compromise

Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday encouraged both sides in teacher contract disputes in Burlington and South Burlington to compromise for the sake of students.

Scott said he wasn’t sure there was a “direct correlation” between the impasses in two of the state’s largest cities and legislation he signed that attempts to force communities to accrue savings in health care spending for teachers or receive less state funding.

Phil Scott, Putnam Block
Gov. Phil Scott. File photo by Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner
However, Scott said unless teachers’ health care plans are the same across the state, it will “create a volatile market, and I’m very concerned about where this could lead us in the future.”

The governor pushed hard during the legislative session for a uniform health care plan where teachers statewide would pay 20 percent of premiums, up from an average of 13 percent today. Teachers union representatives contended the move would undermine collective bargaining, and a compromise was reached.

The governor called the contract talk breakdowns “unfortunate” but said the school boards and teachers believed they were right. He acknowledged he found it difficult to comment late in the process after both sides have spent months trying to work out agreements.

“Both sides have to give, and not everyone is going to like what they end up with, but you have to get to some conclusion” for the sake of the schoolchildren, Scott said at a news conference.

Friday the Burlington School Board voted to impose terms of employment on the teachers for the second year in a row. The union is set to meet Thursday to discuss its options, including a possible strike.

Burlington’s contract imposition came just days after the school board in South Burlington took the same action.

At the same news conference, Scott also weighed in on a fatal police shooting last week. He said he was “confident” state police sharpshooters “adhered to protocol” in the shooting of a Poultney man after a standoff with police in which he flashed a revolver that turned out to be a BB gun.

Five officers shot at 32-year-old Michael Battles early Friday, killing him after he threatened officers and displayed what appeared to be a firearm. They were trying to arrest him on charges of domestic assault.

The governor said he would review the case after an investigation by the Vermont attorney general’s office, standard in police shootings, but he gave no indication that protocols needed to change in the wake of several police shootings of suspects with mental health issues.

“We’ll look at this afterward and see if it was appropriate, if the measures taken were appropriate, but from my standpoint, I stand with them,” Scott said. He defended officers’ refusal to provide some information sought by reporters, saying it might hinder the investigation.

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