Contract Negotiations to Continue After Release of Fact Finding Report

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Thursday August 03, 2017

A fact finding report analyzing the issues at play in contract negotiations between the South Burlington School Board and South Burlington Educator’s Association (SBEA) was released July 27. The fact finding process took place after months of meetings and failed mediation resulted in impasse.

Tentative agreements had been reached on four contract items prior to fact finding and the 37 page report offers recommendations on the remaining issues, the largest of which continue to be healthcare and salaries.

During the fact finding process, each party submits briefs to a neutral fact finder who, in turn, reviews the information and produces a report that is shared with both sides. The report provides an opinion on each of the outstanding items but is non-binding. The parties then accept the proposed solution or meet to negotiate using the information gathered during the fact finding and mediation processes. Thirty days after the release of the fact finding report, the Association may strike and/or the board may impose the terms and conditions of employment.

The school board found fault with several aspects of the report as noted in a statement they released July 27. “The board has concluded that the fact finder’s suggestions do not sufficiently advance the board’s goals. For this reason, the board has formally rejected the report, but will use some recommendations as the basis for further negotiations with the teachers’ union.”

The board’s main goals include “addressing long-term budgetary sustainability, providing competitive salaries and health benefits that enable the district to attract and retain qualified teachers, and completing negotiations prior to the start of school in August, 2017.”

The board also felt that fact finder Ira Lobel’s recommendations were based in large part on his consideration of the conditions in other area school districts rather than South Burlington’s unique circumstances, not the least of which were two unprecedented school budget defeats.

Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald wrote, “The board believes that our ability to maintain broad based community support is significantly undermined when a fact finder believes the district’s largest single expense—compensation and benefits for staff—is driven more by the actions and decisions of other school districts than by thoughtful, respectful and cooperative consideration of local school district priorities, needs and financial capacity.”

The report analyzes and makes recommendations on a number of disputed contract items ranging from methods of evaluation to the minimum amount of planning time required for teachers during the school day. Sick leave is also a point of contention. In the current contract, teachers receive 25 days of paid sick leave, which can accumulate up to one year, and the long term disability (LTD) provision becomes effective after 180 days of absence. The district is proposing to reduce the number of days from 25 to 12 and reduce LTD eligibility from 180 days to 90 days. The SBEA would like the current contract provision to remain. Lobel is recommending 20 sick days and for the LTD to be modified to 90 days.

Health Insurance

Currently, the district pays 83 percent of the premium cost of the VEHI dual option health insurance plan. However, effective January 1, 2018, this plan will cease to exist and will be replaced with four different options for employees to choose from, all with reduced premiums, but higher deductibles. The district has proposed that pre-January 1, 2018, employees receive a set amount of money toward health insurance costs which would range from $3,600 for a single plan to $9,500 for a family plan. Once the new plans take effect, the district would pay allowances in the amount of $2,550-$7,000 regardless of the type of plan chosen (i.e. silver, platinum, gold). In terms of an HRA or HSA (health savings account) to cover medical expenses not covered by insurance, the district has proposed giving employees a choice since not all of the new insurance plans are compatible with both. The district would contribute $1,000 for an HSA or HRA for the first six months of 2018 and double that amount for 2019 and 2020.

The SBEA has proposed that the contract terms remain the same until plans change January 1, 2018, then the district should pay a percentage of premium costs by a contribution ranging from 95-97 percent. The SBEA also proposed an integrated HRA (health reimbursement account) to cover all medical expenses not covered by insurance. They propose this program be fully funded by the district.

Lobel proposed keeping the contract as is until the new plans come into effect. Then, beginning January 1, 2018, he recommended the district should pay 80 percent of the premium of the Gold CDHP plan and offer an HRA to all. The employee would bear the first out of pocket costs of the HRA ranging from $400-$1200 (single to family plan) for the Gold CDHP plan.

Compensation

The board’s compensation proposal to the union is built around the current cost of living data (CPI), which as of June 2017 reflects a 12-month trend of just 1.6 percent according to the Vermont Department of Labor. The district has proposed that in the first year of a three year contract, the teachers would be frozen on step and each step would be increased by $1,250 or 1.61 percent new money. In year two, teachers would move one step and each cell would increase by $350 for a total of 1.77 percent new money. In year three, teachers would move one step and each cell would increase by $450. Over the three years, there would be a total increase of 5.69 percent in new money.

The SBEA has proposed a 4.9 percent wage increase for each year of the successor agreement, which would bring the starting salary base to $44,840 and the top pay to $92,729. The current starting pay is $43,418 and the top pay is $89,788.

When looking at the other nine districts in Chittenden County, South Burlington is 1.4 percent above average for starting salary, 4.4 percent above for the masters step, and 6.1 percent above average for the maximum salary, according to the report. Lobel recommended 2.5 percent total new money in the first year of the contract and 2.75 percent every year thereafter using the current salary schedule and index.

Richard Wise, president of the SBEA said, “While we, too, disagree with some of the recommendations made by the fact-finder, we remain convinced that it can help us reach a settlement. The board’s assertion that salaries, benefits, and working conditions in surrounding districts are somehow irrelevant to our contract talks in South Burlington is absurd. If the board is truly interested in maintaining the high quality of South Burlington schools, this is a strange way to show it. By rejecting out-of-hand the report of a disinterested mediator, the board is making it clear that it would rather start the school year the same way it ended with discord. It is time to heal from a very difficult year in South Burlington. We invite the board to join us in pledging to reach a contract settlement that ensures that our students continue to receive the best possible education we can all provide.”

The collective bargaining agreement between the two entities expired June 30, 2017. The next contract negotiation meeting is scheduled for August 3.

The fact finder’s full report is available on the district website.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent