Burlington teacher contract talks reach impasse

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Burlington teacher contract talks reach impasse

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 12:05pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine The Burlington School District notified the Burlington Education Association (BEA) Friday, March 17, that a state of impasse exists in contract talks for the 2017-2018 school year. That said, the Board has notified the union that it is willing to continue meeting in the weeks leading up to mediation and factfinding. The union, meanwhile, said in a statement that Burlington’s teachers are striving to settle a contract that ensures the district attracts and retains quality teachers who can provide the city’s students with the quality education they deserve. The union said it hopes that a respectful and fair contract can be hammered out without the Board again pushing the parties to the level of crisis experienced last October, which nearly led to a teacher strike. A sizable gap exists on a wage increase.

Right, BEA President Fran Brock addresses members and community allies at an "informational picket" (below) last September in front of the Staples plaza in South Burlington. BEA photos.

Since the BEA brought its proposals to the table on January 31, the parties have met approximately 10 times in an unsuccessful effort to reach a settlement. The union proposed a total increase in new salary-related dollars of 7.74% (5.74% in direct salary plus an additional 2% salary contribution to a new retirement benefit). The District’s opening salary offer would increase salaries by 0.5%.

According to Board Chairperson Mark Porter, “The Board’s opening salary is a starting point that is much closer to the recent 4-year inflation annual trend of 1.1% than the union’s proposal. We’re willing to compromise, but given the gap between the two salary proposals, it’s clear that mediation will be needed to help the parties reach agreement.”

In addition to wages, both parties proposed numerous operational changes. The Board’s operational proposals are intended to improve the District’s ability to meet student needs by simplifying outdated and confusing contract language—often decades old—that governs the workday, teaching assignments, and similar areas, without reducing teacher compensation.

According to the Board, the union also brought proposals in similar operational areas that include reducing teacher-student instructional time, which the Board does not believe is in the best interest of students.

The BEA’s proposals are estimated to increase total costs by $5.3 million dollars. Funding such a proposal would require cuts to student programs, or an additional tax increase of over 9%.

To ensure a timely settlement and save money for both parties, the Board said in its own statement that it has asked the BEA to combine the mediation and fact finding processes, and has requested that this process take place before the end of April.

Vice-Chairperson Stephanie Seguino added, “The Board is very sensitive to the community’s desire that we complete negotiations before school starts in late August. To do this, we need mediation to begin as soon as possible in order to reach a quality agreement.”

Unresolved issues include class size; educational and programming services for Burlington’s diverse student population; language regarding appropriate and equitable elementary school workplace matters; a compensation package that ensures Burlington will attract and retain quality teachers.

“A teacher’s working condition is a child’s learning environment,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as BEA president. 

Brock said the BEA is hopeful that the School Board will instruct their negotiators to continue working in good faith to resolve the differences. As of now, the BEA’s negotiation team of teachers has been met only with BSD lawyers – members of the board have not met with the association. “All of Burlington’s children not only deserve a quality education, but a rigorous, high-caliber education,” Brock said. “This is crucial if our students are to be prepared to move into the career or college of their choice.”

RELATED STORY FROM OCT 20, 2016: Burlington teachers, school board avert strike, reach tentative deal

Source: Burlington School District. Burlington Education Association. 3.17.2017