ANeSU teachers demand contract

BRISTOL — Dozens of Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU) educators showed up at a joint meeting of the six district school boards Tuesday night to demand a new multi-year contract by the end of the school year.
The teachers have been working without a negotiated contract since June 30, 2010, and they’ve been doing so under imposed conditions.
At the meeting at the Mount Abraham Union High School cafeteria, the teachers’ union — represented by spokeswoman Caitlin Leggett, a kindergarten teacher at Monkton Central School — made its message clear. The teachers in the union want the ANeSU Executive Committee to follow the guidelines that will soon be released by a neutral, third-party mediator.
The mediator, who wasn’t identified by either side, is producing a fact-finding report that is supposed to draw from both sides’ proposals, conditions at nearby school districts and overall economic conditions to find a compromise between the union and the board.
“It is our intention to use the fact-finding report to guide our negotiation decisions,” said Leggett, “and we expect the board to do the same, so that we may come to a fair agreement on a negotiated contract.”
ANeSU teachers threatened to strike in February 2011 before accepting a short-term contract imposed by the ANeSU school board and opted to negotiate a long-term pact. The Addison Northeast Education Association teachers’ union last October called for an impasse in the negotiations, which essentially means the union felt a third-party mediator is necessary. 
In the past few months, teachers in several Vermont school districts have threatened to strike or have gone on strike, mostly over issues of pay and work rules.
Lanny Smith, chair of the ANeSU Executive Committee, was caught off guard by the demand by teachers in the five-town area to come to a quick decision once the mediator’s report is out. He said that no decision could be reached until the report was published and until both sides met to discuss its findings.
“The board was surprised that (the teachers in the union) would accuse us of stalling when they called an impasse,” he said. “The fact-finding report is supposed to be made public on April 23, but they can’t meet until May 14.”
But Leggett and Mount Abe teacher Heather MacDonald, chief negotiator for the union, said members of the union want to make it known that they expect the board to use the report’s findings. When a previous fact-finding report was published more than a year ago, they said, the board discarded it. At the same time, they added, the Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) used ANeSU’s findings to settle a dispute between its board and union.
“The ACSU board, one of our neighboring districts, chose to settle their teacher contract using the information in our fact-finding report as a reference tool, which was paid for by the teachers and taxpayers from our five towns,” Leggett said to the boards. “The multi-year contract negotiated for ACSU will keep their district a competitive, desirable workplace that will maintain and attract teachers.”
When asked if the board plans to follow the upcoming fact-finding report, Smith, who has been on the Mount Abe board for more than two decades, said he needs to see it first.
“I have no idea what they’re going to propose,” he said. “I’ve seen some fact-finding reports that are very much down the middle, and I’ve seen some fact-finding reports that are very much slanted one way or the other.”
Smith said the main barriers to reaching a resolution are over pay raises and the union’s proposal that all teachers should be required to pay into it. He said the union’s proposed salary raises and automatic pay increases would lead to 4-5 percent raises across the board in the next year, and that the board didn’t agree automatic pay increases were an effective financial mechanism.
What the board is most vehemently against, said Smith, is the proposition that all teachers join and pay into the teachers’ union.
“The board is adamantly opposed to that concept to force someone to join a club such as the union. To me it’s just abhorrent that someone should pay to go to work,” he said. “It’s like saying that because the Chamber of Commerce does such great work, every business has to join and pay that fee … The union does some things that people think are great, but to make every teacher join would be an awful thing.”
Smith said that he hopes the board and union can reach a resolution at their May 14 meeting.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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