Burlington teachers union, school board end strike

Yaw Obeng
Burlington Schools Superintendent Yaw Obeng answers reporters questions following successful mediations bringing a close to a teachers strike. Photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

(This story was updated at 9:06 a.m. on Sept. 20 with new information from the Burlington School Board.)

BURLINGTON — After a full day of mediated talks, the school board and teachers union announced late Tuesday that it was officially a school night.

The two sides reached a preliminary agreement for a new contract, bringing an end to a four-day strike and months of fraught negotiations that had failed to produce a compromise.

School board members, district officials and union teachers fanned out on the front steps of the South Union Street law offices where the mediation took place in a display of unity following months of division and a weeks long war of words.

View the press conference here.

Stephanie Seguino, school board vice chair and leader of board’s bargaining team, said negotiations have been “tremendously difficult for our district community, and we are ready to move forward in a way that is collaborative, builds bridges and heals old wounds.”

After nearly eight hours of negotiations Tuesday, Bob Church, lead negotiator for the Burlington Education Association, echoed Seguino’s message of reconciliation.

“I’m tired. I’ll be candid with you. We’re beat. But I do believe we share a commitment to move forward and create the schools that best serve our kids,” Church said.

The Burlington Tech Center instructor said he’s looking forward to being back in the classroom tomorrow. “And, I think the kids are, too,” Church added, flashing a smile at reporters and their cameras.

Details of the agreement will not be made public until the Burlington Education Association has had an opportunity to ratify the new contract language. Then the Burlington School Board will take it up for a vote during a public meeting.

Mediator Ira Lobel said returning to work with a preliminary agreement is typical in strike settlements.

Superintendent Yaw Obeng confirmed that school would proceed Wednesday with notification going out to parents Tuesday night. He said it’s too early to say when or how the days students missed will be made up.

Obeng, who participated throughout the mediation, said he was pleased the board and union had reached agreement.

“When you get to a certain stage people start to really articulate what their needs are, both sides sort of empathizing and understanding what they need to come back together,” Obeng said. “I think we reached that point tonight, and we were able to close the deal.”

The union will meet with members Thursday to discuss and vote on ratification. The school board will then take up the deal later Thursday, as it plans to warn a public meeting Wednesday, which must be done 24 hours prior.

Church praised Mayor Miro Weinberger for spending a second day with the board and the union, helping the two sides reach an accord. Lobel, who invited the mayor to join in the mediation, also lavished praise on the mayor for his role in the talks.

Weinberger thanked both sides for “digging deep” and finding the “flexibility” to reach a bargain. “I think everyone here agrees that we’re very fortunate, and rare, to be a city that still believes in its public education system,” he said.

Burlington Education Association
Bob Church, lead negotiator for the Burlington Education Association, and Stephanie Seguino, school board vice chair, address reporters after reaching a preliminary agreement to end a teacher’s strike. Photo by Morgan True/VTDigger
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