In a recent The Other Paper advertisements and in flyers sent to teachers, the South Burlington Educators’ Association implied that the school board has failed to negotiate in good faith during the current negotiating cycle. The union wrongly contends that the board is rushing negotiations along so that it can legally call an end to the process this summer and impose a one-year employment policy. This is a complete mischaracterization of the board’s attempts to reach a fair settlement for all parties before the start of the 2019-20 school year.
It is important for the board and the union to reach a settlement before the school year commences for many reasons. The possibility of a disruption of the school year causes enormous stress for students and their families. If school is disrupted there is a chance that students could miss opportunities, both academic and extra-curricular, that would be difficult or impossible to reschedule. If a contract cannot be settled within the parameters of the budget approved by voters, the district could be forced to reallocate resources and potentially cut or reduce positions. These kinds of changes are particularly damaging to students if they happen after the school year has begun and routines have been established.
Two parties committed to negotiating in good faith should certainly be able to reach a settlement over the course of 10 months (the time between the start of negotiations in early November 2018 and the beginning of the school year in late August 2019). However, following a pattern that it has established over the last several negotiating cycles, the South Burlington Educators’ Association has undertaken a strategy of delay. Most critically, the union refused early in the process to identify mediators and factfinders who would be acceptable to them. Now that mediation has failed and a factfinder is needed, none of those available has room in their schedule for a hearing until July. Four mediators have been contacted with over 15 available dates since March, but it took until the last week in May for the union to agree to a date, July 9, for a fact-finding hearing. The result is that the union will breach the current contract, which says that a fact-finding report, if needed, will be received by June 30 when the current contract expires. At best, we can hope for a report in mid-August, but more likely the report will arrive after school has begun, meaning that we will enter the new school year without a contract. The district would be within its rights to file an unfair labor practice suit, but that would only serve to further delay progress toward a settlement.
This outcome is extremely disappointing to the board, which has made significant concessions during the negotiations in the hopes of settling a contract this spring. The board’s current offer would increase teachers’ wages by 2.07 percent with an average raise per teacher of $1,572 and the terms of health care benefits remaining the same as in the current contract. The union’s current proposal seeks a 4.29 percent increase in total wages (twice the rate of inflation), an average raise per teacher of $3,254, and richer health insurance benefits. The board hopes the union will come back to the table quickly with more reasonable proposals once a fact-finder’s report is received. The board’s goal has been and remains to reach a settlement that is fair to the children, teachers, and taxpayers of South Burlington in time to avoid disruption of the 2019-20 school year.