ANeSU teachers ask for mediator in contract talks

BRISTOL — Teachers in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, who threatened to strike last February before accepting a short-term contract imposed by the ANeSU school board, have taken contract negotiations to the next level.
The Addison Northeast Education Association teachers union, known as the ANEDA, last week called for an impasse in the negotiations, which essentially means the union feels a third-party mediator is necessary. 
“At this point, the teachers’ negotiation team feels that we aren’t really getting anywhere through negotiations,” said Heather MacDonald, ANEDA chief negotiator. “The board and the teachers were seeing things in a different way, so we really felt that we wanted to call someone else in to help out.”
Lanny Smith, chair of the ANeSU board, said there’s nothing unusual about calling an impasse.
“That’s a right that each side has,” he said. “The board has asked for an impasse over the years and the teachers have asked for an impasse over the years. It’s a negotiating step. This is not uncommon at all.”
Since June 30, 2010, ANeSU teachers have been working without a negotiated contract. In February, when the board and union couldn’t settle on key sticking points — like pay raises, automatic pay increases and an increase in health insurance that the teachers would cover — the teachers accepted an imposed contract. This contract — what MacDonald referred to as “working conditions” because “a contract is something that both sides agree to” — expired June 30. The conditions of that imposed contract will apply until a new agreement is reached.
For ANEDA, the straw that broke its negotiating team’s back was the fact that the school board did not offer a salary proposal at the Oct. 25 negotiation session.
“They didn’t come prepared to our last meeting with their salary proposal, even though that was on the agenda,” said MacDonald. “We were surprised that because it was on the agenda there was no salary proposal given. Generally in negotiations when one side hands over a proposal the other side does as well.”
But Smith explained that the board had all along planned to respond to the union’s proposals after deliberating, rather than offering its own proposal that didn’t take into account the union’s proposal.
“At the beginning of the negotiations, the board said we would respond to all presentations and proposals after the fact,” Smith said. “We were waiting for them to finish and then respond rather than do it piecemeal … the board was very unanimous in that we wanted to wait until we heard the whole picture before responding.”
The ANEDA proposed for the 2011-2012 school year a base salary of $36,727 with a 2.91 “percent increase on the base” and a 2.09 percent “step movement cost.” For 2012-2013, ANEDA proposed a $37,877 salary with a 3.13 percent increase on the base and a 1.87 percent step movement cost. Smith explained that the board has not yet deliberated on this new salary, and ANeSU Business Manager Ed Gomeau said he hadn’t seen the proposal and therefore couldn’t comment on it.
MacDonald explained that the two sides are currently looking for a third party to moderate negotiations and their next meeting hasn’t been scheduled. In addition to salaries, some other key points of debate, illuminated by board and ANEDA proposals in August, are:
•  If federal funding is cut for a position, the board proposed that the “district should have the right to eliminate that position rather than fund it with local dollars.”
•  The board proposed that teacher contracts for the next year be issued after a school budget is passed, so that school administrators know they have enough funding to meet the demands of the contracts.
•  The board proposed that “if the cost of a settlement affects (ANeSU’s) ability to keep expenses within the approved budget, (ANeSU) should have the right to reduce staff.”
•  If a teacher is laid off, the board proposed to prohibit that teacher from displacing “a less senior teacher in another layoff category,” a practice known as “bumping rights.
•  The board proposed a VEHI — Vermont Education Health Initiative — Comprehensive Plus Plan, which has a premium rate that is 20 percent lower than a Dual Option Plan, but has deductibles. The board proposed paying 85 percent, rather than 90 percent, of the premium cost of the plan and reimburse teachers for the first $1,000 of those deductibles.
•  The teachers want a three-day leave if an immediate member of the family dies.
•  For national and regional conferences, the teachers want costs for registration, materials, transportation, lodging and meals paid by the school district upfront, rather than reimbursed. The teachers’ proposal pointed to other school districts, like Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, that pay for similar fees in advance.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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