ANWSD set to mediate teacher talks

VERGENNES — Members of the negotiating committee representing the school board are raising their own issues about how talks have proceeded between the Addison Northwest School District and the Addison Northwest Teachers’ Association (ANTA). ANWSD Superintendent Sheila Soule last week announced that contract negotiations had come to an impasse, and a mediator would be called in.
On Wednesday, Soule said the district and the teachers group had secured veteran mediator Ira Lobel for this negotiation.
Lobel has more than 30 years experience as a federal mediator and has helped resolve hundreds of labor disputes in eastern New York, western Massachusetts and Vermont. He worked to settle a contract impasse in the Addison Central School District in 2017. In that case, the contract was hammered out in one meeting.
Soule said the date for the ANWDS board and ANTA to meet with Lobel was being worked out.
“I am sure all parties agree that the sooner we can reach agreement the better,” she said.
ANWSD Board Chairwoman Sue Rakowski, who is on the negotiating committee, this week said there is one central issue that needs to be resolved.
“Basically, it is salary,” she told the Independent.
Members of the ANWSD board’s negotiating committee took issue with comments by a teachers union representative and reporting in last Thursday’s Independent.
First, they said that the comparison of the board’s salary increase offer compared to the increase the teachers sought lacked information explaining the differences. They also said the board was not “reluctant” to create a “safe work environment,” as the story reported, but that the offer on the table ran contrary to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Third, Rakowski countered a comment by ANTA President Susan Oliveira that her union had offered to have a multi-year contract by pointing out that the state would not allow the schools and teachers to create a contract that runs beyond September 2020. That’s because the state is trying to set up statewide health insurance for teachers and wants it all to start at the same time.
“There’s no question about the term of the contract — we are only allowed by the state to have a one-year contract,” Rakowski said.
She added that the board isn’t necessarily opposed to a multi-year contract, because repeated one-year contracts are costly and exhausting to negotiate.
“We’ve asked our legislators to allow more than a one-year contract,” Rakowski said.
Rakowski also addressed concerns that ANWSD schools offered the lowest pay in the county. She said the comparisons are always difficult to make given the way that pay increases are figured differently in different districts.
A recent comparison of teacher pay in the Addison Northwest, Addison Central, Mount Abraham and Rutland Northeast school districts shows that the average salary across those districts was $59,196, Rakowski said. She said that 27 ANWDS teachers were below that average and 93 were above.
“It just depends on how the (pay) schedules are developed,” she said.
Rakowski said that the overall atmosphere at ANDWSD schools — Vergennes Union elementary and high schools, and Addison and Ferrisburgh central schools — is good. After investing in some building repairs and upgrades, plus buying into solar panels, the district has been saving “a lot of money in terms of electricity and fuel.” Plus, she said security at all the schools has improved.
Also, Rakowski said the schools are lucky to have Soule, who started as superintendent last summer.
“I feel like things are going well for all the schools,” she said.
Going forward, ANWSD schools have smaller groups of children coming through the system. The board and schools are dealing with lower student numbers in pretty much the same ways that other Vermont districts are dealing with the trend, Rakowski said.
“The board has collected community thoughts on how to solve these issues,” she said. “We hope to gather more community input in early fall.”

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