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City-area educators propose salary hike

VERGENNES — The Addison Northwest Teachers’ Association (ANTA) on Monday presented what it believes is a solid starting point in its salary negotiations on behalf of Vergennes-area educators for the next academic year: a 10.95-percent increase.
That initial ANTA proposal is in response to Addison Northwest School District (ANWSD) negotiators’ initial salary offer to district teachers of a salary hike of $747 for the 2017-2018 academic year (which translates to a 1.4 percent increase), as well as significantly increasing the starting pay for new teachers from around $36,000, to $42,609 annually. The district is comprised of Vergennes Union High School and the Vergennes Union, Addison and Ferrisburgh elementary schools.
Both sides acknowledged they do not expect their initial offer to be accepted by the other side. But the gulf between the two proposals shows that Addison Northwest directors and teachers have their work cut out for them if they are to agree on a new contract in time for next school year, which spans July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018.
“I am very optimistic and hopeful that things will be resolved,” said Vergennes Union High School Guidance Counselor Susan Oliveira, a lead negotiator for ANTA.
She called the 10.98-percent salary increase proposal “a reasonable starting point to allow us to end up in a happy place.”
Oliveira added that since ANWSD teachers currently work at the lowest salary scale in the county, “we have to start out at a place that gets us out of the dungeon.”
Addison Northwest teachers are currently in the final year of a three-year pact that expires next June 30. Union and school district negotiators have met a handful of times since last summer in what has been, for the first time ever, a public bargaining process. As is often the case, wages, health and dental benefits, and length of the academic year and school day have emerged as the most hotly contested issues in the contract talks.
The Addison Independent earlier this month reported the school board’s initial offer. In addition to the salary increase described above, the school board offered teachers — during the first six months of the new pact — the same health care benefits they are currently receiving.
The district currently pays 87.5 percent of the premiums for a Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) health care plan, and the same dollar amount for teachers enrolled in a comparable Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan. But from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2018, the board is offering to contribute toward the costs of four different VEHI health care options that will be available. Specifically, the board is offering $4,404 annually toward the cost of single-person coverage; $8,256 toward the cost of two-person (adults) coverage; $6,804 toward the cost of a policy covering a parent with children; and $12,180 toward a family plan. A teacher can instead receive $2,000 in lieu of their health benefit and apply it to a spouse’s health care plan under which they prefer to be covered.
The board pitched an increase in the length of the school day from the current 7 hours and 15 minutes to eight hours, and that new teachers have two additional non-student days on their work calendars during their first year with the ANWSD for “orientation and other district-designated work.” The board is also proposing an academic year of 190 days “with no fewer than the minimum number of student days required under Vermont law.”
But on Monday it was ANTA’s turn to reinforce its requests and offer its official reaction to the school board’s initial offers. Oliveira and other ANTA members specifically argued the board’s proposed contract terms would:
• Have the effect of adding 24.66 extra days to the current 185 days on the ANSWU school calendar. They arrived at that figure by adding up the extra hours that would be result from increasing the school day from 7 hours, 15 minutes, to eight hours, as well as adding five days to the school year.
“Our teachers are worth more than $4.19 an hour for over a month of additional work,” reads a graphic in ANTA’s rebuttal presentation on the school board offer.
Union officials also noted that teachers routinely work beyond the hours for which they are paid, when one considers such tasks as grading papers at home and giving extra help to some students.
Mark Koenig, leader of the ANWSD board’s negotiating team, noted the Addison Northeast and Addison Central Supervisory Unions both currently have 7.5-hour school days and calendars of 186 days and 188 days, respectively.
“This is our initial proposal,” Koenig said of the five additional schools days. “Five days seemed like a reasonable starting point.”
• Represent a 30 percent cut in the teachers’ combined salary and benefit package — not including the extra 24 days of work the union said the school board is requesting. ANTA said the board is proposing what amounts to a 41.5 percent cut in the district’s health insurance contribution, and a 46.3 percent cut in dental insurance coverage.
“We all have financial commitments and mortgages and we shouldn’t suffer a more than 30 percent decrease in our salary and benefits package in one year,” Oliveira said.
She added ANTA has, in the past, settled for less in pay increases in order to maintain a good benefits plan.
“We sacrificed one for the other,” Oliveira said. But she and her colleagues believe it is time that Addison Northwest officials “bring us out of the basement and pay us a fair wage, compared to the districts around us.”
Koenig acknowledged the board was “incorrect” in its initial dental insurance offer, and that there are no plans to pare back that benefit.
•  Restrict professional development opportunities for teachers. The board is proposing to establish an annual pot of $150,000 to help teachers pay for professional development classes, on a first-come, first-served basis. ANTA officials argue that sum translates to 80 of the current 107 ANWSD teachers being able to take less than one University of Vermont course.
Koenig argued the district is currently spending around $130,000 each year for professional development for its teachers, so $150,000 is a boost and is comparable to what the Burlington school district is offering its more numerous educators. He said the number was also calculated based on the number of Addison Northwest teachers that have been using the professional development benefit during the past five years.
“We have never hit $150,000 in the past five years,” Koenig said. “It’s not our intention to take anything away. We thought we were adding a buffer.”
The two sides are next scheduled to meet on Thursday, Jan. 12, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., in the Vergennes Union High School library.
School board and ANTA officials said they are hopeful for an accord in the coming months.
“Every year, when we start negotiations, we are typically far apart,” Oliveira said. “Over the course of several months of negotiation, we have a long history of coming to an agreement that everyone is happy with. I hold every confidence that we can do that again, this time.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
 
 
 

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