ANWSD teacher contract talks stall

VERGENNES — Contract talks between teachers at public schools in the Vergennes area and the board that oversee those schools have broken down.
Sheila Soule, superintendent of the Addison Northwest School District, on Tuesday told the Independent that the ANSWSD Board and the Addison Northwest Teachers’ Association (ANTA) have reached an impasse in their collective bargaining negotiations for a one-year contract that would cover the coming school year. The current teacher contract runs through June 30.
“After eight meetings since last October, both the board and the union have decided to call in a mediator to help reach an agreement concerning salary, the last major issue still on the table,” Soule wrote in an email.
Soule described the board’s last offer as a salary increase of 2.9 percent; she said the teachers were seeking a 3.7 percent increase.
Vergennes Union High School counselor Susan Oliveira is president of the ANTA and co-chief negotiator for the teachers. She described the board’s offer as a 0.7 percent salary increase.
“They didn’t want to move,” she said. “We offered to have a multi-year plan, they were not interested in that.”
Oliveira said she understood the pressure that the school board is under from taxpayers to keep costs under control.
“I have to get 100 faculty to ratify a contract proposal, they have to face a public with a budget,” she said. “They have to be thoughtful and careful. I get that.”
Oliveira said she felt lucky to live in a community that is “very supportive of schools and students and teachers.”
And she pointed out that of the three school districts in Addison County, ANWSD typically pays teachers the least.
“We have a couple people leaving for more money,” she aid. “I have to keep saying that to the board; if you want to attract good people to the schools and the area, you have to pay more.”
Declaring impasse is recognition that third party assistance will be helpful in moving the negotiations forward. The parties will invite a neutral mediator to facilitate negotiations. While it is hoped that can happen soon, it can be difficult to find a mediator that is available.
If both parties cannot come to an agreement, then a fact-finding process will begin, Soule explained. The fact-finder could issue a non-binding advisory report within 60 days.
“Board representatives are eager to meet with the mediator and union representatives and remain hopeful that an agreeable contract can be finalized before the end of the school year,” Soule wrote.
Whether a contract is settled or not, the school boards and teachers will have to begin meeting this coming fall to begin working on a contract for fiscal year 2020-2012.
At the beginning of the negotiations, the board had 20 issues on the table, while the ANTA had 15. Apparently, all but five of these issues were settled prior to impasse.
For instance, the length of the school year for next year has been set. Oliveira said agreement was reached on health insurance.
She described two issues still unresolved.
“Teachers are very concerned with safety, we’ve been asking for improvements to create a safe work environment in our master agreement … looking for more communication,” Oliveira said. “They are reluctant.”
She said there is also disagreement over the amount of personal/sick time that teachers would get.
Teachers will continue working through the end of the school year, as the contract for 2018-2019 is already in force.

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