ANwSU settles contract

VERGENNES — Teachers and the school board within the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union have settled on a two-year teacher contract more than a month before the current contract expires on June 30.
Both Kristin Bristow, lead negotiator for the school boards, and Rose Wenzel, co-chief negotiator for the teachers, said the negotiation went smoothly, taking just a few months — from the first meeting in December until the teachers ratified the contract last Tuesday — to work out the full contract details.
“We can proudly say that we only met six times,” said Bristow.
Both said it was a relief to come to a compromise so quickly, especially considering the turbulent negotiation periods in many other supervisory unions across the state.
“We were very pleased,” said Wenzel. “This is unusual in the state of Vermont, to have a settled contract in six sessions.”
The new, two-year contract will go into effect on July 1 of this year and run through June 30, 2014. It includes a 3-percent increase in base salary. The second year, the base salary will rise by 3.5 percent.
This increase means that the lowest entry salary for the supervisory union, now at $33,948, will rise to $36,190 after two years. The other salaries across the district, with built-in increases depending on graduate education and years of experience, will rise accordingly.
Teachers in the supervisory union will also see a 1-percent increase in co-pay in their health plans, which Bristow said will help to offset rising salaries by a small amount. She said in the negotiation process, it’s always a challenge to incorporate the needs of the teachers and the desires of taxpayers into a fair salary deal.
“It’s a very hard balance,” she said.
Wenzel said the teachers also felt that it was important to maintain the same length of school day, which the teachers were able to keep throughout the negotiation process.
An important part of the process, she said, was the fact that both parties came to the table and had a respectful discussion about each side.
“We didn’t negotiate with a lawyer,” said Wenzel. “Both sides communicated — that was very important.”
Other factors played into the negotiations as well: Both sides started out hoping for a four-year contract, which makes it easier for schools to plan budgets and for teachers to expect regular raises.
With the economy in an uncertain spot and with the state of Vermont making steps toward radical changes to the health care system, Bristow said future financial concerns were just too uncertain to be able to make decisions four years ahead.
Ultimately, Bristow and Wenzel agreed that good communication made the negotiations respectful and smooth, which is a promising precedent for future negotiations.
“It sets a tone,” said Bristow.
“We ratified, they ratified. We’re happy,” said Wenzel.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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