Thursday October 12, 2017
After 11 months of negotiations, mediation, impasse, imposition and the threat of a strike, a two-year contract has been ratified between the South Burlington School Board and the South Burlington Educators’ Association (SBEA). The contract spans the period from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2019. Salaries and cost-sharing arrangements for healthcare benefits were the most significant proposals still under discussion as the parties entered the final 10-hour mediation session on Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. Just after 2 a.m. October 4, the parties emerged with a tentative agreement.
School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald wrote, “The board has worked hard to address the needs of our teachers as expressed by the SBEA, and we believe this agreement accomplishes that. The contract also makes progress on the board’s goals of making compensation for our more junior teachers more competitive and improving the sustainability of the district’s budget. We are pleased that both sides were willing to make the concessions necessary to reach an agreement without a strike.”
According to a press release from the school board issued October 6, the parties agreed to a 2.17 percent salary increase in FY 2018, with the new funds distributed across the salary schedule in flat dollar increments. This equates to $2,000 for teachers in the BA (Bachelor of Arts) columns and $1,700 for those in the MA (Master of Arts) columns, with those at MA+30, step 18 (the highest step on the salary schedule), receiving a raise of $1,500. Teachers were held on step for FY 2018 and the average raise for FY 2018 was $1,679.
Changes to the salary grid were a major concern for the SBEA and the board agreed to return to an indexed methodology to calculate salaries in FY 2019; which will use multipliers that have been “recalibrated” based on the flat dollar raises that were provided in FY 2018. The parties agreed to a small adjustment to the top step (Masters+30, step 18) from 2.01 to 2.015 times the base salary. Teachers will also advance on step on the salary schedule in FY 2019. In total, the agreement for FY 2019 adds 2.49 percent new money to teachers’ salaries.
After the SBEA ratified the agreement Wednesday afternoon, representative Noah Everitt wrote,
“We are happy the process resulted in a settlement, achieved through negotiations at the table. It is unfortunate this could not be achieved without significant disruption for the students and families of South Burlington. The SBEA remains committed to working with the South Burlington School Board now and in the future to provide the best educational outcomes for students, but hopes in the future imposition of working conditions will not be used instead of a commitment to finding settlement at the negotiating table.”
Healthcare plans provided to employees across the state will be replaced as of January 1, 2018, with four new plans developed by the Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI). The district will continue to pay 83 percent of the premium cost for the VHP Dual Option plan (the one currently used by more than 90 percent of the district’s employees) for the first six months of the contract. Teachers will pay 17 percent plus any out-of-pocket costs, which, for this plan, average approximately $400 per covered life per year in co-pays. This represents the same cost-sharing arrangement as in the last year of the previous contract. For the second six months of FY 2018 and through FY 2019, the district will pay 80 percent of the premium cost of the CDHP Gold plan toward the premium of the plan chosen by the employee.
While premiums are lower for new health care plans, maximum out of pocket (OOP) costs are higher. The employees will pay the first $400 (single plan)/$800 (two-person or parent/child plan)/$1,000 (family plan) of OOP costs on an annual basis. The district will then pay the remainder of the OOP maximum on the CDHP Gold plan through a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA), up to $2,100 (single plan)/$4,200 (two-person or parent/child plan)/$4,000 (family plan).
Employees also have the option of establishing a tax-advantaged Health Savings Account (HSA) to fund OOP expenses as an alternative to the employer-owned HRA, and the district will match employee contributions up to $400 for single, $800 for 2-person and parent/child and $1,200 for family coverage.
In addition to the terms of the SBEA contract, the parties agreed to implement a side letter on rules related to faculty meetings and a separate letter regarding the cash-in-lieu payment received by employees who decline district health coverage. Further details regarding the contract and the side letters will be posted on the district website at https://www.sbschools.net/Page/716.
While parents, students, and staff expressed relief over narrowly averting a strike, the prospect of the possibility, especially with the South Burlington teachers strike of 2014 not too far in the rearview mirror, reignited the debate at the state and local level over whether or not to ban teacher strikes as well as board imposition of contract terms. A bill was proposed in the legislature in 2015 to that affect, but ultimately failed. However, two South Burlington residents, Gwen Bruns and Sheramy Tsai have drafted a petition on Change.org calling for a ban on both teacher strikes and board imposition.
“Your support does not imply that you are for or against the teachers union and/or the school board,” the petition reads, “The passing of this act would serve to protect teachers, parents, tax payers, and most importantly, our children. In this day and age, there has to be a better way to bargain without our children suffering the consequences.” As of this writing, the petition had 382 digital signatures in an effort to get to 500 and submit the petition to Governor Phil Scott and 12 state legislators.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent