Burlington Education Association says Report of Neutral Fact-Finder Paves Path Toward Settlement
BURLINGTON – The city’s teachers condemned the chair and vice-chair of the Burlington School Board for seeming to choose disruption instead of negotiation with their public threats of impositions and strikes.
“It is disheartening to see the board throw around terms like ‘imposition’ and ‘strike’ when the report of a neutral fact-finder gives both sides a very clear path to a contract agreement,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association. “At a time when our top priority as educators is giving the city’s students the best education we can, it’s distressing to see the board prefer discord to compromise.”
The report was given to the board and the association ten days ago. A mediation session last week saw the teachers’ make many compromises, while the board, unfortunately, preferred to walk away without reaching a settlement.
“With its divisive public rhetoric – coupled with budgeting decisions this year that hurt our city’s students – the board seems intent on disrupting over four decades of collective bargaining that has served the city’s students, parents and residents well,” Brock said. “We implore the board to work with us rather than try and gain points in the media. It’s time for them to get back to the table, and reach a settlement.”
The current three-year contract expires Wednesday. Below is a more detailed statement from Brock.
Since I was elected president of the Burlington Education Association last spring, and members of the School Board have taken their contract demands to the public, I have been asked to respond. I have not responded because, on behalf of the district’s 400-plus teachers, I believe in the collective bargaining process, and wanted to maintain the integrity of the process. Our Negotiation Team, composed of excellent, thoughtful and caring teachers, have been negotiating in good faith. Unfortunately, we are now at a point when the School Board is refusing to negotiate, and the community deserves to know that we have made significant compromises in order to reach a settlement.
Three years ago, the School Board and teachers with the support of the community crafted and adopted a provision into the then negotiated contract designed to lessen the focus on and the frustrations of negotiating salaries in future contracts. Teachers agreed to simply insure that Burlington’s professional teaching salaries would keep the city ranked in the middle of the county’s salaries, which would keep Burlington comparable and competitive.
Unfortunately, members of the current School Board — some of whom signed off on the agreement — not only disagree with the principle that the city’s schools should rank above the bottom third tier, but have argued that they are not required to honor the contractual provision.
In the interest of negotiating a fair and respectful contract, the BEA has agreed to accept the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder, and suspend what has become controversial language. However, we continue to support the principle that Burlington salaries must stay competitive with salaries of the neighboring districts. The fact-finder’s report concurred that Burlington should at least rank 5th in the field of 9 districts.
Teachers are acutely aware of the district’s financial situation. Three years of school-based budget cuts and administrative instability have led many in the community to wonder just where the leaders of our schools want to take us. It is a mess long in the making, but we still don’t have the details on how it’s being fixed. We do know that despite cries that teacher salaries make up the largest chunk of expenditures, teacher salaries actually have been accounting for a smaller percentage of the District’s total budget for the past several years. Salaries accounted for 35.04% of the district’s 2016 budget, and the BEA salary proposal for 2017, which would enable Burlington Schools to rank in the middle of county teacher salaries, would be 34.87% of the district’s current budget. What we do know is that this board’s budget priorities reflect a choice to slash programs for kids instead of leveling with parents and taxpayers.
The BEA has offered to reduce from 4 to 3 the number of personal days for each teacher. The BEA has offered to increase the teachers’ contributions to health insurance from 15% to 16% even though 6 of the 9 area districts pay 15%, and all school districts need to review health insurance costs for next year when the state system changes. In fact, the BEA agreed to negotiate only a one-year contract in order to remain responsible when the state system changes.
We have tried to maintain the integrity of the collective bargaining process by offering compromise. Unfortunately, the board Chair and Vice Chair in particular publically have threatened imposition of a contract from the outset. The Board has prepared press releases before negotiation sessions have ended. The Board has continued to show that they have no intention of meeting us with the spirit of compromise. And the Board has raised the specter of a strike instead of preventing one by negotiating a fair settlement.
The BEA shares the community’s frustration with the School Board’s failure to compromise. Burlington residents have always graciously demonstrated support of our public schools. We appreciate that support.
Teachers are prepared to settle this one-year contract. We know we need to start up negotiations again this coming winter. The Board however wants to flex muscle and show power. And in doing so, the board wants to disrupt four-decades of collective bargaining that have served the students, educators and community well.
The BEA will not be deterred from our top priority: teaching Burlington’s children. We invite the board to join us and reach a settlement now. No more media games. No more grandstanding.
Because when the board finally takes bargaining seriously, we can reach a settlement quickly. And get on with devoting our energies to making our schools the best they can be.