RNeSU talks teacher contracts

BRANDON — After more than a year, officials in the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union are hopeful that negotiations may be nearing an end, although the issues of salary and benefits remain on the table.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll have a resolution here in the next couple of months,” said RNeSU Superintendent John Castle.
Negotiations on the new agreement began last fall. In the meantime, teachers in the district — which includes Leicester, Whiting and Goshen in Addison County, and Brandon and other Rutland County towns — are currently laboring under the previous five-year contract, which expired at the end of the last school year in June.
The greatest portion of the time so far, said Jeff Bergquist, chief negotiator for the teachers’ union, has been spend working through older language in the contract — the entire contract, composed of 33 parts, was opened for discussion and revision this time around.
“A lot of it is updating,” he said. “It’s language that’s been in there for 20 years that people want to reword.”
Castle said the constructive nature of the talks have helped to set the tone for the upcoming negotiations on the major cost issues.
“Ultimately what’s happened through our conversations over the past year is that we’ve come to understand our common interests,” said Castle.
The contract, once approved, will affect the budgeting calculations for all of the schools within the supervisory union. Castle said that the negotiations would necessarily be conducted with the awareness of a growing pressure from the state to cut school spending.
Key among the state’s cost-control efforts is the recent Challenges for Change goal that mandates a 2 percent school-spending cut statewide for next year’s school budgets.
“Challenges for Change adds to the context of our budget-building process, and to where we are in negotiations,” said Castle. “It’s a variable that’s going to impact the budget building.”
Since the new contract will factor into budget calculations for the upcoming fiscal year, Bergquist said all parties are hoping for a conclusion in the coming months.
“The school board is interested in coming up with a new budget. They have an interest (in a finished contract),” said Bergquist.
Though he did not speculate on how the budget talks would go, Bergquist said that there has been little difficulty with the talks so far.
“I can say without reservation that we’ve had a collaborative negotiation to this point. Things are moving along,” said Bergquist.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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