Thursday October 16, 2014
The report on the teacher’s strike is based on the information that was available to The Other Paper at press time, Tuesday, October 12.
Up to date information is available at the district website district.sf.sbschools.net and at the SBEA website sbeducators.org.
Classes, sports and extracurricular activities at South Burlington schools are canceled until further notice according to a statement released by Superintendent David Young at 3 p.m. Monday, October 13. In a statement from the South Burlington Educators Association issued last week, SBEA Chief Negotiator Eric Stone said that teachers would strike if an agreement wasn’t reached by the end of the day Monday.
As the strike began on Tuesday, teachers picketed outside closed school buildings.
The School Board is scheduled to discuss the SBEA’s counter proposal in executive session prior to their regularly scheduled board meeting Wednesday, October 15 (after The Other Paper has gone to press). A meeting with the SBEA is scheduled for Thursday October 16.
According to a statement from School Board Chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the 16th is the soonest the entire board could meet. “We cannot agree to meet before then because it would be a disservice to the community to proceed without all Board members at such a meeting. The Association has created its “crisis,” and has set its own arbitrary strike deadline, one which could certainly be canceled or postponed,” Fitzgerald said.
The teachers have been without a successor contract since July 1, 2014 and have been in negotiations with the board since December 2013. Stone’s current proposal advocates for recommendations made by a neutral fact finder. The primary sticking points involve changes to the teachers’ health care plan and salaries.
The district is home to 2,334 students and has over 250 teachers under contract. This is the first teacher’s strike in South Burlington’s history.
At The Other Paper’s invitation, South Burlington Educators Association and the School Board each submited a 500 word statement Tuesday, October 14. Their statements appear below.
South Burlington School Board
School Board Proposal Seeks Compromise
The South Burlington School Board has a responsibility to provide quality public education at a cost that our community can afford. As we engaged in contract negotiations with the SBEA over the past ten months, we identified a health care optionwhich does not ask the teachers to go at risk for healthcare. We were offering a stable plan which exists today and is administered through VEHI and BC/BS, as is their current plan. This plan puts money back into the pockets of teachers and contains costs for the District. This is not the exchange, it’s not single payer, it’s not speculative, and it’s far more generous than many of the plans the taxpayers in our community enjoy. At our October 7, 2014 meeting, the Association made it clear that changing their health care was not a negotiable item and that preserving their current dual option health care plan was essential to reaching an agreement. The Board made it clear to
the Association that concessions would have to be made to offset the additional cost of this premier health care plan.
The Board offered a proposal that required concessions from the Association including: a lower salary increase, an increase in the teachers’ contribution to their health care premiums, and a shifting of salary toward less experienced teachers. The reason for the latter is, in part, to ease the burden of paying higher health care premiums for the teachers who make less. This proposal puts an additional $1.9 million toward compensation over three years. In response, the Association’s counter proposal offered no concessions to offset the higher costs of retaining the current health care plan. The SBEA seeks $2.6 million in new compensation with no additional contribution toward health care.
In the face of difficult budgets and property tax increases, the School Board has diligently tried to contain costs while preserving learning opportunities for the students. In the last two years, South Burlington taxpayers have absorbed an increase in property taxes of over 13%. Again this year, the community will be considering a difficult budget and the board is anticipating cuts.
The SBEA has decided to strike despite the fact that the School Board has provided significant concessions in its most recent offer. The teachers have been working this year under the terms of their last contract, including full salary and benefits plus automatic step increases for those who are eligible ($330,000) and they have maintained their premier health care plan. The “crisis” that the Association is claiming has been manufactured and is unnecessary. They are willing to put the students’ education and activities at risk despite the fact that the Board has demonstrated significant compromise. Since negotiations began in December 2013, the first counter proposal the board received from the SBEA since June was last Monday.
The School Board will do its best to reach a fair and reasonable settlement for all stakeholders, but the Association’s artificially-created emergency cannot be allowed to dictate terms that are not favorable to our community.
Elizabeth E. Fitzgerald, Chairperson
On Behalf of the South Burlington School Board
South Burlington Educators Association
For the first time ever, I and my fellow South Burlington teachers are walking a picket line. We’ve been without a contract for months, but not for lack of effort on our part. Indeed, we’ve been trying, for nearly 11 months, to get the South Burlington School Board to engage in serious, fruitful negotiations, mostly to no avail.
When we voted last week to strike if we didn’t have a tentative contract agreement, we gave the board ample notice that we are united, strong and dedicated to reaching a settlement that is fair to us, to our schools and to this city many of us call home. We offered to use the services of a seasoned mediator who has been instrumental in contract settlements statewide. We offered to meet for as long as it took to reach a deal. The board not only refused to use a mediator; they showed up to a bargaining session October 6 and walked out after we proposed yet another compromise offer, saying they were “unprepared” to respond. They finally responded four days later – to say that they wouldn’t be able to discuss their response until two days after our strike deadline. We didn’t just sit around: on Sunday, we met and sent the board yet another compromise offer, and told them we’re available any time to bargain until an agreement was reached.
Instead, the board has chosen to make up reasons for why they can’t – won’t – meet with the union to bring a resolution to this contract dispute. They have said the whole board owes it to the community to all be present for negotiations. They have said Vermont’s open meetings law prohibits them from considering the union’s two compromise offers without warning a full meeting. And they have said that they haven’t had sufficient time to consider our proposals.
Frankly, they are wrong on all counts, and their manufactured excuses are the main reason we are on the picket line instead of in our classrooms. (Learn more at sbeducators.org)
The only reason we voted overwhelmingly to strike was to signal to the board that the time for manufactured excuses was over. The board had a choice to make: engage in serious give-and-take bargaining (they have spent the better part of a year rejecting compromise, rejecting the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder and rejecting overtures from us) or to do nothing but posture.
There didn’t have to be a strike. The board, unfortunately for our community, our schools, and our students, chose to manufacture excuses instead of bargaining. It’s past time for them to negotiate with us so we can get back to class.
SBEA Chief Negotiator
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent