ANeSU at odds with teachers over new contract

BRISTOL — In just the first five minutes of this past Thursday’s public negotiations between the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union teachers’ union and the board of the Bristol-area schools, the public learned how far apart the two sides’ proposals are. In their opening statement, the teachers were frank in their disapproval of the board’s first contract draft.

“The proposal you gave us at the last meeting was the worst initial proposal Addison Northeast has ever seen,” said Bristol Elementary teacher Andrea Murnane, reading a prepared statement drafted by her colleagues. “The initial proposal … is a gutting of 30 years of mutually negotiated contracts in this district.”

The teachers object to many parts of the agreement proposed by the board members, which would, in contrast to the present collective bargaining agreement:

•  Eliminate sick bank time, where employees could save up accrued sick days in case of long-term medical episodes.

•  Increase the length of the work day.

•  Eliminate an average class size standard of 20 students.

•  Decrease sick days from 18 to 12.

•  Not include any raises, and mandate that teachers remain at the same “step” for the duration of the contract.

•  Decrease compensation for teacher leaders.

•  Decrease the portion of health care premiums the district will pay, from 85 percent to 82 percent.

The supervisory union has hired Burlington attorney Stephen Stitzel, who practices labor and employment law, to represent the school boards. Stitzel did all the talking for the board Thursday evening, and in an interview Friday morning described the board’s proposal as one that is fiscally prudent.

“The school boards are collectively trying to address issues that will enable them to keep their schools open, which requires there be a very careful review of costs and efforts to control costs wherever possible,” Stitzel said.

This round of contract negotiations marks a change for ANeSU; it is the first time they have been held in public session. Thursday’s proceedings at Mount Abraham Union High School featured a small audience and the local Northeast Addison TV station taping the meeting for broadcast to the public.

The parties did not on Thursday discuss the entire proposed contract, which is about 23 pages long. Instead, they discussed specific sections. One of many points of contention was the length of the teachers’ work day. The school board wants to increase it from 7.5 hours to 8 hours, but the teachers didn’t budge.

Monkton Central School teacher Kate La Riviere-Gagner said she didn’t understand why the board wants to lengthen the workday, since most teachers already put in hours well above that threshold, including nights and weekends.

“I don’t think any of us work a 7.5-hour work day, or five days a week,” she said. “I don’t think changing it to eight will change that.”

Mount Abe teacher Justin Bouvier said the proposal to lengthen the workday represented a lack of faith in the supervisory union’s faculty.

“It feels very much like there’s mistrust of the teachers,” he said.

The two sides also disagreed about when teachers should be entitled to union representation when facing possible discipline from administrators. Stitzel said supervisors should be able to address teachers’ performance immediately if they see a teacher doing something wrong. He said having to schedule a time where a union rep to be present in order to discuss a performance issue could be inefficient and ineffective.

“The best type of supervision is that that is communicated as closely as possible to the time it is observed,” he said.

Teachers said they did not believe they would abuse the need to have a union rep on hand, but asserted their right to have representation if they are uncomfortable or feel they may be disciplined.

“Our disagreement is simply that in the course of that supervision, if we feel it may lead to disciplinary action, we have the right to have a representative there,” said Mount Abe teacher John Foster.

The two sides agreed to meet again March 26, when they plan to discuss sections of the contract that deal with sabbatical and teacher leaves of absence. The current teacher contract expires on June 30.

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