South Burlington teachers try leverage short of strike

SOUTH BURLINGTON — The South Burlington Educators’ Association says it will not begin negotiating a contract for next year unless the school board agrees to reopen talks on the current year.

The union said at a Wednesday news conference that it voted to formally reject the terms of employment the South Burlington School Board imposed last week. The board took that step after 10 months of negotiations failed to yield a contract. The two sides are still at loggerheads on teacher salaries and health benefits.

The board has said it was hoping to begin negotiations on a new contract as soon as possible, because the terms it imposed will expire in July.

The Wednesday announcement from the union means a teacher strike is not imminent. However, Noah Everitt, a spokesman for the union and a special educator at South Burlington High School, said the union is still “considering all its options” should the board refuse to reopen negotiations for this year’s contract.

“Our vote today should send a strong signal to the board that the women and men who teach the city’s children prefer an approach that leads to healing and certainty,” Everitt said.

The union’s counterpart in Burlington, the Burlington Education Association, is expected to hold a similar meeting Thursday, where teachers will discuss their options after the school board there imposed employment terms last week as well.

It’s the second year in a row that the board in Burlington has imposed terms on its union. Last year, Burlington and its teachers narrowly avoided a strike through mediated negotiations that dragged well into the school year.

As both unions have noted, imposing contract terms is rare in the state’s history of collective bargaining between boards and teachers. Burlington and South Burlington are now among seven districts in the state to have imposed terms more than once, according to the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association.

Most districts have never imposed work terms on their union, said Vermont NEA spokesman Darren Allen.

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