Teacher contract talks break down in Addison Northwest and Rutland Northeast

VERGENNES / BRANDON — School boards and teachers unions in two more local districts have declared impasse in their negotiations over teacher contracts.
Negotiators in the Addison Northwest district in the Vergennes area and in the Rutland Northeast district in the Brandon area are both seeking the aid of third-party mediators to help them get over the hump in discussions to replace contracts that end July 1.
RNeSU declared an impasse last week, Addison Northwest School District this Monday.
The RNeSU board’s negotiating team is hoping that a mediator can be selected and approved by both sides in time to meet with the parties for a scheduled April 27 negotiating session. 
“If the parties are unable to resolve disputed issues through mediation, they will select a neutral fact finder to conduct a fact finding hearing and issue a written report with recommendations,” according to RNeSU attorney Steve Stitzel.
A date for the next negotiation in ANWSD was not set as of press time. The board put out a statement saying it is hopeful that the parties can agree to a “fiscally responsible” contract before the current agreement expires on June 30 and before the teachers need to begin enrolling in one of the four new healthcare plans by Nov. 1.
As in the Middlebury-area Addison Central School District, which declared an impasse in teacher contract negotiations last month, the major sticking points in both ANWSD and RNeSU are salary increases and health insurance.
The organization that provides health insurance for Vermont educators is changing its delivery system.
For the last 20 years, most education employees in Vermont have received health insurance through the Dual Option Plan provided by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. In January 2016, VEHI announced the Dual Option Plan would end as of Jan. 1, 2018, and that before that date, employees would have to enroll in one of four new VEHI plans. To facilitate an orderly transition to the new plans, the terms under which the new plans will be offered must be established no later than late September 2017.
RNeSU teachers currently pay 13.25 percent of the premium cost of the VEHI Dual Option Plan. A teacher currently enrolled in a family plan pays annual premium costs of $3,152 and out-of-pocket expenses such as co-pays of approximately $1,200. The plans that will become available next Jan. 1 have different premium costs that are lower than that for the Dual Option Plan and out-of-pocket costs that are significantly higher.
RNeSU is proposing health care premium payments of up to $7,800/year for single coverage, up to $15,300/year for two-person coverage, and up to $20,500/year for family coverage.
The teachers union would like to pay 5 percent of the premium the first year of the contract, 5.5 percent the second year and 6 percent the third year. They would also like RNeSU to set up a healthcare savings account for teachers to offset out-of-pocket expenses.
In Addison Northwest, the school board last month offered up to $13,044 toward a teacher’s premiums for family coverage and added a Health Reimbursement Account depending on which plan a teacher chooses.
The ANTA health insurance proposal, according to a board statement, requires the school district to pay 95 percent of any insurance premiums and cover all out-of-pocket expenses including deductibles.
In terms of salary, the ANSWD board and ANTA negotiators appear to be far apart. The teachers lowered their salary request to a 9.75 percent increase (plus 4.5 percent step increase) from the initial deman of a 10.95 salary increase. Addison Northwest teachers on average have the lowest salaries in the county.
Raising salaries is essential for the schools to attract and keep good teachers, VUHS counselor and ANTA rep Susan Oliveira said. Recently, one new teacher candidate walked away from a job offer in ANWSD because of the salary, she said.
In addition, Oliveira said teachers will be paying more for health care in the end and hope to make up for some of that difference with salary.
She noted that unlike employees of businesses, ANWSD teachers have to negotiate for their salaries — and this year they are negotiating in public. Most employees don’t have to do such dickering and almost none have to do it in public, so people shouldn’t see an initial request for a salary increase as the ultimate number that is agreed upon, she said.
But the ANTA is not seeing a willingness by the board to negotiate, Oliveira said. She said that in the past boards have been open to give and take, but this year board members won’t explain their rationale for their own negotiating positions.
“They say, ‘Ask the lawyers,’” she said. “It’s frustrating and irritating.”
Her supposition is that lawyers working with school boards across the state are urging districts to go to impasse in teacher contract negotiations.
In RNeSU, other issues negotiators are facing involve middle school workday schedules, evaluation of teachers and implementation of a sick day bank.
RNeSU has its next negotiating session set up for late this month. The ANWSD board cancelled an April 20 meeting and rejected four meeting dates in May proposed by ANTA.
The board said in its press release that it remains “hopeful that the parties can agree to a fiscally responsible contract before the end of the school year. The board believes this process will help all concerned to reach common ground for the benefit of our students, teachers, and community.” 
Editor’s note: This story was updated after its original posting to correct an error on the teacher salary request in ANWSD.

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