Burlington teachers won’t strike Wednesday, agree to mediation

Mark Porter, Fran Brock, Burlington
From left: Fran Brock, Burlington Education Association president, Mark Porter, Burlington School Board chair, and Ira Lobel, a mediator, address reporters in October 2016 after reaching a tentative contract deal. The two sides will work with Lobel again this year to try to reach agreement. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

BURLINGTON — The union representing city teachers says it will delay a strike planned for Wednesday, and instead agreed to a meeting with the school board orchestrated by a mediator.

If the mediated talks don’t yield a contract, the Burlington Education Association said, its members will strike Thursday.

“This meeting was called by mediator Ira Lobel – who invited the mayor – and we will arrive ready to negotiate a contract that at least covers this year and ensures that we can attract and retain the very best for Burlington’s children,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School teacher who serves as the BEA president.

Mayor Miro Weinberger issued a statement Monday saying he has followed the negotiations closely. He urged the board and union to “work hard and creatively toward a solution for the benefit of our youth and community.”

Lobel has spent decades helping school boards and unions in the Northeast settle contracts. In October he served as mediator on the eve of a narrowly averted Burlington teachers strike. At the time, Lobel said he also mediated during the last Burlington School District teacher strike in 1979.

When the one-year deal Lobel helped craft ended earlier this month, the school board voted to impose salary and other working conditions on its teachers. In response, the union called for a strike that was to begin Wednesday.

The board said in a news release Tuesday that the two sides met Monday night “to discuss the last remaining contract issue on which there is disagreement,” and that the union reacted favorably to its proposal.

The outstanding issue, according to the board, involves how teachers are expected to use their time. The board imposed changes — which the district had recommended — to the amount of unassigned time for teachers at the high school. Officials said the changes are intended to close “the achievement gap.”

“The achievement gap is the challenge faced by school districts across the country where low-income, traditionally marginalized students, and those with disabilities are not achieving the same levels of academic success as their white and middle-income peers,” the board said in its statement.

Previously, negotiations were hung up on issues related to salary increases and employee contributions to health care premiums, but those disputes appear to be largely resolved.

The board said it would be canceling its Tuesday night meeting in order to meet with union negotiators, but the BEA later said it never agreed to a Tuesday meeting. “We responded to an invitation from Ira Lobel, and we accepted that this morning,” Brock said.

The mediation session is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the law offices of McNeil, Leddy & Sheahan. Attorney Joe McNeil represents the school board.

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