Bristol-area teachers and schools reach contract accord

BRISTOL — Teachers in the Bristol-area school district and school officials have reached a tentative contract agreement.
The contract between the Addison Northeast Education Association (teachers union) and the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union covers the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca said on Tuesday.
Details of the contract won’t be made public until both the union and the ANeSU boards ratify it. ANEDA is holding a meeting Thursday, April 14, to vote on the agreement, said Justin Bouvier, ANEDA co-chief negotiator and a math teacher at Mount Abraham Union High School. The school boards are expected to vote on the agreement May 17, at the district’s next all-boards meeting.
Negotiations on the teacher contract, which expired this past June 30, began in February 2015, with 22 proposed contract changes from ANEDA and 27 proposed contract changes from the ANeSU boards. At the Sept. 1 negotiation session, both parties agreed to mutually declare an impasse. Then, in early December, after a five-hour session facilitated by a professional mediator, both sides called for the contract negotiations to go to fact-finding.
At a fact-finding hearing, both parties would select a mutually agreeable neutral third party to whom they would present their respective positions and the fact-finder would then make nonbinding recommendations.
The limited availability of fact-finder professionals in Vermont had meant that the fact-finding hearings were not to have taken place until early May.
According to Vilaseca, initially both sides agreed to meet some two or three weeks ago, in preparation for the scheduled May fact-finding hearing. This meeting then led to a series of discussions through which both sides were able to reach an agreement. Vilaseca credited the successful negotiation to the willingness of both parties to reach out and meet face to face, unmediated by attorneys or representatives from the state union office. He said he was also present at the discussions.
“I think one of the things that may have changed is that both sides were willing to sit down face to face and talk,” said Vilaseca. “When you speak face to face with people, even things where you might disagree, you might be able to come to some sort of agreement. I think it was a gesture by the board to reach out to the association one more time, and I think the association wanted to do that as well — to have a meeting prior to the fact-finder.”
Vilaseca continued, “That meeting we had a bargaining session and that led to the settlement. It was a good opportunity for the board and the teachers to meet each other directly and work that way without attorneys present or without anybody from the state association.”
Vilaseca said that he had advised that “they be in executive session so that people could have some frank conversations. So as a result of that it opened up the door for further discussions, and then an offer that was accepted by both sides. Now we’re waiting for both sides to ratify. Both sides need to vote on it.”
Vilaseca said that both sides also wanted to reach an agreement during the current school year and so were motivated to talk now. If they had had to rely solely on the May fact-finding hearing, said Vilaseca, the contract would likely not have been settled until June.
The current agreement, he added, covers salary and benefits but leaves other questions unresolved. He expects that these smaller issues will likely be picked up in the fall or winter of the 2016-2017 school year. The proposed contract now on the table would extend through June 30, 2017.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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