The South Burlington School Board opened its June 6 meeting by asking for public comments regarding items not on the agenda and was met with a plea from South Burlington Educators’ Association President Noah Everitt and his colleagues.
The school board met on Thursday to address the 180 Market Street stormwater conversation, give an update on the specialization plan and take action on their Master Planning and Visioning options, among other items. However, the current impasse with SBEA teachers took center stage.
Dressed in matching red SBEA shirts and holding up signs declaring, “We are the SBEA,” a few dozen teachers gathered in the meeting room behind Everitt.
“We came here tonight as the year comes to a close to try and advocate for things in South Burlington to go a little differently,” Everitt began. “The experience of 2018 and the lack of reliable healthcare and reimbursement for that healthcare was really detrimental to our ability to do our jobs.”
A teachers’ strike was narrowly averted in 2018 when a union contract was finally settled.
Everitt went on to assure the board that although healthcare negotiations have been contentious in the past, they view the board as their leaders and trust them to be their advocates. Several teachers held signs that read, “We support our negotiators.”
“It is our hope that this cycle can be different than the cycles have been in the past, and that we can commit to working together to find a settlement that respects both parties,” Everitt said.
Board chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald responded that fact-finding is currently scheduled for July 9, which means the report will not be compliant with the current contract, putting them in a position to enter the upcoming school year without an agreement. Everitt then reminded the board that they were the ones to declare impasse and call for the fact-finding report, when the SBEA did not deem it necessary. He went on to insist that there are extenuating circumstances that he thinks calls for them to get the information they need to have a deal in place before the school year. Fitzgerald hopes to find that agreement as well, although the timing of the fact-finding report will impact the situation.
The board touched briefly on the stormwater issue at 180 Market Street and the city agreement, with Fitzgerald noting the recent accusation that they are purposely delaying the planned summer groundbreaking.
“It sounded like there was a pretty robust discussion about stormwater at the council meeting and I know that I was not informed or given the opportunity to attend, nor was (Superintendent) David (Young). Consistent with our last two steering committees, if you can take a message back or at least hear the message … part of our goal was to improve communication and that would have been a great opportunity to reinforce the action taken by the board on Tuesday,” Fitzgerald said.
Turning to specialization, the board continued to request the research behind choosing specialization to bridge the achievement gap at South Burlington elementary schools.
“I’m really struggling with why specialization is the answer,” Bridget Burkhardt told Young. “I’m also struggling with what we’re going to do to talk to parents about it because there was a pretty clear ask from parents to have a specific meeting about it… I just didn’t see a clear message in here that we were going to sit down again with parents and be really clear about that answer, about why specialization is what we think will close that achievement gap. I think that’s what parents are waiting to hear and concerned about.”
Burkhardt went on to share further concerns about the idea, which Superintendent Young acknowledged.
“That’s helpful feedback,” Young said. “I want to let you know I’m receiving it and I think it’s important. This is why (the plan is) on pause and a reevaluation is being done.”
Lastly, after a lengthy discussion on Master Planning and Visioning, Burkhardt moved that the board should advise the superintendent to instruct the architects to begin the pre-bond vote design phase for Option 8, which entails a new combined middle and high school building. However, a new fallback position also needs to be considered with this option, which would mean a new high school building, but only an infrastructure upgrade to the existing middle school. Based on the recent school tours the board took, it was clear that the high school is in greater need of a renovation. Furthermore, the design should include input from parents, students, faculty, administration, staff and the greater community.
The school board voted unanimously to pass the motion.
The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on June 19 at the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School Library. Next year’s board meeting schedule has been posted, as well, with the Tuttle library as the sole location in order to consistently offer a live stream on www.retn.org.