South Burlington board, teachers OK two-year contract

SOUTH BURLINGTON — The city’s school board approved a contract agreement with the teachers union Friday that ended months of negotiations and narrowly averted a strike planned for earlier in the week.

The deal was reached after hours of mediation Tuesday evening stretched into Wednesday morning, when the South Burlington Educators Association had voted to strike if a settlement wasn’t reached. The union ratified the preliminary agreement in a vote Wednesday.

“I think both parties worked hard to get to an agreement that reflected both parties’ needs,” said Elizabeth Fitzgerald, chair of the South Burlington School Board.

The two-year deal is retroactive to July 1 and goes through June 30, 2019.

As they had throughout the negotiations, the last-ditch talks this week focused on salary and health care, Fitzgerald said. A major sticking point was the board’s insistence on moving away from salary increases that provide larger raises based on seniority and educational attainment.

The union said those increases were crucial to ensuring teachers had a career path in the South Burlington School District. The board argued that they were weighted too heavily toward the most senior teachers, shortchanging newcomers.

In the deal, raises for the first year will be flat dollar amounts that don’t account for seniority, except for the most senior master’s-level teachers, who will receive smaller raises. On average, teachers will receive a $1,679 pay boost. Salary increases for the second year will revert back to the previous formula.

On health care, teachers will continue to pay 17 percent of premiums for the last six months of current health plans, and 20 percent once they transition to new lower-premium plans — the target set by Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers in a budget deal earlier this year.

Fitzgerald said Act 85, the law reducing state education fund payments to districts based on anticipated health care savings, was one of several factors that made negotiations difficult.

Other complicating factors were pressure from residents, who rejected two school budgets before the district made $1.2 million in cuts; the need to hire a new teacher at Orchard School due to increased enrollment; and money spent moving the library to the University Mall.

The entire process, Fitzgerald said, was a “reflection of the dynamics in the public education funding system right now.”

The teachers union hadn’t issued a public statement about the agreement as of midday Friday.

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