The Burlington Education Association stands in solidarity with the nurses of the University of Vermont Medical Center. The stand you are taking is so important as you are fighting for all of the people at the Medical Center and will have significant impact on the rest of our community.
The lack of staffing at the Medical Center is a barrier to healthcare for our most vulnerable community members. As you have made clear, the only way to achieve the appropriate level of staffing is to raise wages at the hospital. The way that the UVMMC is forcing these working conditions on our nurses and other workers while making excessive profits is unsafe and disrespectful to our community.
During our strike, many of your members came out and marched with us. You truly have our community’s needs at heart. Keep up the fight for making our community a better place to live.
A tentative agreement, pending ratification, has been reached between the paraeducators of the Burlington Education Association and the Burlington Board of School Commissioners. Details will follow after ratification by both parties.
My name is Fran Brock. I am president of the Burlington Education Association and a history teacher at BHS.
First, on behalf of the district’s estimated 500 teachers and paraeducators, I would like to welcome those who have been elected — and re-elected — to the Burlington Board of School Commissioners. Our hope is that as we move forward and you take on your oversight responsibilities you will become familiar with the district’s educators — teachers and paraeducators — and the programs and services we provide the city’s children on a daily basis. We also hope and encourage you each to feel free to ask questions of us and to visit our schools and classrooms, to better understand the education we provide our students.
Toward that end, let me share with you a report just release this weekend by the Vermont NEA. This study conducted by Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations takes a hard look at the face of Vermont educators.
In 1-1 conversations with over 200 Burlington teachers and paraeducators, the BEA has begun to codify our shared values and principles. In the coming months, we will offer the community a clear sense of who we are, what we do and why we do it. We also trust that by adhering to these values we will better serve the students of Burlington.
In short, we believe in building a culture of professional growth; we believe in nurturing a welcoming school climate; we believe in teaching the whole child, connecting families to schools, and building community by communicating openly and clearly with all participants.
These principles guide us in our daily work and must anchor our school climate, policies and procedures. Our public schools are the responsibility of the public. That responsibility requires that the public is well-informed about educational programs and policies. When educators, students, parents, and other community members are well-informed and work together, our students succeed.
As you know, one major piece of unfinished business this year is the settlement of a contract with the paraeducators. These people work daily with some of the district’s most vulnerable students. We are pleased that there has been some movement forward, but we still need to have that contract settled so we all — school board members, administrators and we educators in the classrooms, can move forward. And to offer you a more clear update on that contract process, let me introduce Mark Van Buren.
On behalf of Burlington’s teachers and paraeducators, I extend great thanks to the voters of Burlington who have again shown their support of our city’s schools by approving the district’s budget. The staff of Burlington’s schools are acutely aware that we must stay focused and persistent at providing your children with quality education. We will apply our professional abilities and talents to do just that; we will work with each student to make sure she/he has needs met and is properly challenged so that each student graduates prepared to meet the challenges of the world beyond school.
Now I want to introduce Mark Van Buren who will again address you on the yet unsettled paraeducators’ contract. Again, these people are asked to work with our district’s most vulnerable students, many of whom need one-on-one assistance. Paraeducators are crucial members of the education teams that work to provide each student with proper service. The work paraeducators perform requires them to be trained and loyal to the District. The compensation package — salary and healthcare coverage — must be be attractive and competitive if we are to retain and attract excellent people.
This evening I want to express my concerns that you seem to be on the same path with the paraeducators that you took twice in contract negotiations with the teachers. Again you are demonstrating little to no respect for the collective bargaining process, believing instead that your administrators can unilaterally decide what is best for employees. I had hoped that your experience with the teachers’ contract would change your practices. But your continued paternal reluctance to listen to and respond to the valid concerns and needs of your District’s paraeducators only demonstrate your dismissiveness toward the rank-and-file employees who directly serve the students of Burlington.
There are paraeducators here this evening who want to help you understand what it is they do everyday in the schools. To start them off, let me read to you the standard job descriptions listed in almost every one of the District’s paraeducator position postings:
“(W)ork with a child who has intensive special needs. Ability to work with a team of instructors and consultants to guide one’s work as well as the ability to work independently is critical. Responsibilities include communication facilitation, (including working knowledge of American Sign Language) carrying out programs designed by the teaching staff, managing behavior, teaching self regulation skills, and supporting and facilitating social engagement with peers. Physical responsibilities include lifting, carrying, personal care, and the ability to assess a situation and respond quickly…”
“To assist professionals in supplying individual instruction to …students in classroom and small group environments. To facilitate and supplement the educational process under the direction of a professional staff member. Responsibilities include communication facilitation, carrying out programs designed by the teaching staff, managing behavior, teaching self-regulation skills and supporting and facilitating social engagement with peers. Physical responsibilities include lifting, carrying, personal care, and the ability to assess a situation and respond quickly.”
Think about it. These folks are dealing with some of the district’s most vulnerable and troubled students in the district. These employees should not be subject to such low wages that they cannot afford your proposed healthcare package. They should not be subject to such low wages that they need to work second or third jobs. And, as with some of our best teachers, some of our best paraeducators are leaving us because they can earn more and be treated better elsewhere.
Tonight, in this short 2-minute window, I want to offer some concerns on behalf of Burlington’s teachers and paraeducators.
As you know, contract talks regarding the paraeducator contract have moved to the fact-finder stage. I hope the board will take this opportunity to respectfully consider the findings when they are offered so this contract can be settled.
As for the teachers’ contract, it seems we are very close to signing off on it. I certainly look forward to having a master contract in place so teachers finally can receive their full salaries and administrators and teachers finally are working from a set of constants. It will make operations of the schools more efficient and effective when we all know the agreed upon rules of the game.
I am concerned that changes in the school schedule for the balance of the school year cuts into the amount of time teachers – particularly at the elementary school level — will have for family meetings in March. While the Superintendent has instructed building principals to work out the schedules, a district-wide policy or oversight may be needed to insure fair, balanced and equal opportunity across the district. Teachers are concerned that the decision to reduce conference time is short-changing families who need these conferences to better understand educational expectations and services; and to better support their children.
On another note, teachers are aware that the School Board is evaluating the Superintendent and reviewing his contract, even though it does not expire until Spring. While teachers and staff have not been asked for input, I hope that the Board takes into consideration such operational matters as the recent exodus of many skilled and experienced faculty and staff; and serious morale issues which, in part, manifested in the threat of a strike and then an actual strike over the past two years.
Lastly, once the 2-year contract is signed and we have some time to breath, teachers are looking forward to working collaboratively with building administrators and central staff on issues that affect student learning including safety in classrooms and buildings; educational programming; and student behavior issues. We welcome the chance to put our professional expertise to appropriate use.
I am Andrew Styles, a 5th Grade teacher at Edmunds Elementary and Vice-President of the Burlington Education Association which is made up of the dedicated education professionals that work each day with the children of Burlington.
You have heard much over the last couple of years about the important roles that Paraeducators fulfill in our district. These dedicated Paraeducators work with our most vulnerable students and are responsible for helping deliver individualized education to these students.
What we see, though, is that many of our Educational Support Professionals, are working two or three jobs to make ends meet. They are dedicated to the success of our students and our schools; however, the District has have been doing very little to attract and retain professionals for our students.
Our ESPs are often left out of district trainings and treated as an afterthought even though they are educators who are working directly with our students. I have experienced many valuable trainings where my colleagues should be in attendance but are unable to do so because their hours had been cut. This means that they are unable to engage in valuable collaboration with colleagues and engage in the sharing of best practices. In fact, the whole district meeting to kick off the new year did not include our ESPs even though it included most of the staff of the district.
We appreciate the generosity of Burlington’s taxpayers. We are concerned to see that spending on direct student services continues to decline. We see ESP positions that remain unfilled over the course of a year, stretching the dedicated ESPs we have. Students go without one-on-one services which are required for the implementation of IEPs. This is a tenuous position for our educators and especially our students.
We ask that you partner with us to ensure that we provide the working and learning conditions that will enable our schools to focus on shrinking the achievement gap. We can do this by settling a contract that will attract and retain the best educational support personnel — who team with the teachers — for our students.