Teachers strike in Rutland Southwest SU
Teachers of the Rutland Southwest Supervisory Union will strike today (Wednesday, April 4) after the union and the local school boards failed to reach agreement on a new contract.
The NEA, which is the largest teachers union, said the boards walked away after teachers agreed to the boards’ demands on salary; agreed to the boards’ demands on three of a possible four years on health insurance premium co-pays; agreed with the boards to halt step-increases in the event a contract expires without a successor in place; and agreed with the boards to allow distance learning in the system.
For its part, the RSWSU said on its Web site that after over six hours of mediation, the school boards presented the union with a four-year proposal to settle all issues. This settlement proposal, it said, would increase teacher salaries by an average of 10.5 percent (on an average of 2.6 percent per year). The Fact Finder recommended an average of 2.6 percent per year for only two years.
Under the Board proposal, teachers will not pay any more health insurance in years one or two and will pay only 1 percent more in year 3 and another 1 percent in year 4.
But according to the NEA, it is not on those issues that teachers chose to go on strike.
"We are baffled that the boards would choose to close schools, even after we accepted their economic demands and made a major concession in agreeing to halt automatic step increases in an expired contract," said Kaitlin Cioffi, a Poultney High School biology teacher and the spokeswoman for teachers in the Poultney Teachers Association, the Rutland Southwest Education Association and the Middletown Springs Education Association. "It’s too bad they couldn’t find a way to agree with a contract that accepts all of their major demands."
The RSWSU stated that the boards’ offer is very similar to the settlement reached in Fair Haven, Castleton, and Benson-Orwell two weeks ago.
“The teachers in those districts chose to accept a similar settlement rather than go on strike. We hope our teachers will do the same,” the statement says. “The Boards asked the Union to present this proposal to all teachers so they can vote on it. We hope the union will do so and that the teachers will realize that the Boards’ proposal is a fair compromise.”
According to the NEA, the only condition the teachers’ asked for in the proposal -- the ones the boards walked out on – was that the boards agree to keep all other current contract provisions on work rules the same as they are now.
"What a shame that the boards are putting their communities, their businesses, their families and students through this because of ideology," Cioffi said. "It’s clear that it was never about money, as the boards claimed. We’ve shown our commitment to our students by working more than 640 days without a contract. They’ve shown their disdain for doing the right thing by rejecting a contract proposal that maintains current practice and accepts virtually all of their economic demands. We hope they come to their senses soon."
Teachers voted last week to strike unless a deal was reached before classes were slated to begin later this morning. The NEA said the boards have refused to budge in more than two years of bargaining.
Classes were canceled, as were all extra-curricular activities. No new talks are scheduled at this time.
Source: Vermont NEA, Rutland Southwest Supervisory Union. 4/4/2012 POULTNEY