RNeSU teachers sign a new three-year pact

BRANDON — Almost two years of negotiation have led not only to a new contract, but better relations between the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union (RNeSU) and local teaching associations, the parties said.
RNeSU, the Rutland Northeast Education Association and the Otter Valley Teachers’ Association have agreed to a 1.6 percent increase on the base salary schedule for the current 2010-11 school year along with a 1.74 percent for 2011-12 and 2.37 percent for 2012-13.
The teachers unions OK’d the contract proposals on June 6 and the last RNeSU board approved them on June 16. They apply to teachers at Otter Valley Union High School, as well as Neshobe Elementary in Brandon, Leicester Central School, Whiting Elementary School and the three other elementary schools in the district.
In the new contracts, the teachers unions agreed to increase the teacher’s share of the health care premiums by 1 percent in year three, bringing that to 11 percent of the total premium. As for continuing education, teachers will have 90 percent of approved course work paid for next year and 100 percent beginning in 2012-13.
The current retirement incentive, where educators receive 50 percent of their last year’s salary over a period of three years, will no longer be available after next year.
In addition, the RNeSU and Brandon school boards also agreed to a new three-year contract for paraeducators and bus drivers with salary increases between 2.5 and 3 percent. Support staff under this agreement will for the first time contribute to their health insurance premiums with contributions of 1 percent of the total cost in year one, 2.5 percent in year two and 3.5 percent in year three.
RNeSU Superintendent John Castle said the negotiations, which began in September 2009, took so long because the bargaining committees opened and examined 32 out of 34 articles in the supervisory union’s master agreement with the associations. He said there were delicate and intensive negotiations on salary schedule movement, professional development and a new supervisory and evaluation model.
“We opened almost every, single article,” Castle said. “A lot of it was editing and cleaning up the language because some things were misinterpreted. We hadn’t had a new contract in five years, and some said, ‘Let’s clean up some of this language and misunderstanding.’”
Regarding length of work day, educators are expected to work a 7.5-hour day and can attend up to three professional meetings a month before being compensated either financially or with time, an understanding that was already in practice, Castle said.
“In many ways, this is already happening,” Castle said. “This agreement is just codifying the norms and practices already in place.”
A new supervision and evaluation model, which Castle said had become something of a sticking point in the negotiations, is also in place under the new agreement. A committee of teachers, administrators and board members was formed to revise the process over an 18-month period.
“We met to develop a new process that was piloted this year,” Castle said. “We solicited input from staff about how it went, and that proceeded to make a huge difference.”
Jeff Bergquist, chair of the teachers’ negotiating team, said the staff associations feel good about the new contract.
“In light of the difficult economic times in our state, the associations feel that this is a fair and reasonable settlement for both sides,” he said. “We thank the boards for working in a collaborative fashion to reach this agreement.”
Castle said he was most heartened by the diligence on all sides to come to an agreement, saying the long negotiation process resulted in mutual respect and understanding.
“In the end, the (RNeSU) board has a better understanding of our teachers and appreciation of their work, and the staff has a better understanding of the board’s responsibilities,” he said. “And the relationships that were fostered only got better and led to mutual appreciation and respect. Both sides came to a resolution in the best interest of all parties, including our taxpayers and our students.”

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