S. Burlington teachers to strike

Noah Everitt
Noah Everitt, South Burlington Education Association. Photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

SOUTH BURLINGTON — The teachers union voted Friday to strike starting Oct. 4, if a contract can’t be negotiated, a spokesman said.

The South Burlington School Board voted to impose working conditions on the union Aug. 29, and then asked the union to begin negotiating a contract for the following year. The union refused, saying it would not negotiate for 2019 until the imposition was lifted.

The two sides met for a second round of mediated negotiations Thursday, which stretched into early Friday morning, but the marathon eight-hour bargaining session failed to produce a compromise.

“We are committed to reaching settlement. We cannot accept imposition,” said Noah Everitt, a spokesman for the union and a special educator at South Burlington High School, at a Friday news conference.

The strike vote comes a week after the Burlington Education Association and the Burlington School Board reached a settlement to end a four-day strike. The Vermont NEA, the statewide teachers union, said recently that roughly half the school districts in the state have settled contracts.

The Vermont NEA has said there have been fewer than 30 teacher strikes in the 50-year history of local collective bargaining for teacher contracts, but if South Burlington teachers walk off the job next week, it would be the second strike in a month.

The South Burlington School Board said Friday that it has tried to offer terms for a two-year contract that would be acceptable to the union, while also addressing city residents’ “anxiety about the long-term sustainability of the district’s budget.”

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the board’s chair, said they are disappointed that the union has decided to strike.

“Rather than disrupting the school year for our students and parents, the union should reconsider the concessions the board made last night, return to the table, and get serious about negotiating a two-year agreement,” Fitzgerald said.

South Burlington voters rejected two school budgets earlier this year, demanding cuts to further reduce local property taxes, but the message from voters was muddied by a anti-school budget campaign that sought to reinstate the district’s Rebels sports moniker.

The union maintains “there is no financial crisis” in South Burlington.

“Taxes have decreased for the second straight year, and educational outcomes for students in South Burlington are some of the best in the state, making this community one of the most desirable places to raise a family,” local union representative Everitt said.

The union doesn’t like the terms imposed by the board, which eliminates the current methodology for calculating salary increases.

Salaries have been pegged to seniority and educational attainment.

Rich Wise, SBEA co-president, has said that doing away with the formula would cost South Burlington teachers thousands of dollars over the course of their careers.

When asked to explain why South Burlington teachers voted to strike, Everitt said the board’s imposed terms “remove the clear career path for South Burlington educators.”

Board members say the formula creates an imbalance between senior teachers and new teachers. The disparity in pay makes it difficult to attract new teachers.

The board said it made significant concessions to the union in Thursday’s negotiations, including an offer to return to the current salary formula in year two of the contract.

“We await a realistic and meaningful settlement offer from the SBEA,” Fitzgerald said in the board’s statement.

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