Sixteen-month process likely over
Feb. 24, 2011By Tim Simard Observer staff
The nearly 16-month teacher contract negotiation process with Chittenden South Supervisory Union appears to be almost over. Last week, teachers union representatives and negotiators with CSSU reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract, according to a joint press release issued Tuesday.
In recent weeks, both sides inched closer to agreement over salary increases, health insurance premium payments, and step raises for eligible teachers during contract negotiations. Negotiators initially discussed a two-year contract, but it appears a third year was added in the final meeting. The negotiations ended on Thursday, Feb. 17, before CSSU school districts took winter break.
No details were immediately released regarding the settlement. At first, union representatives and CSSU negotiators said both sides had to ratify the contract before releasing details. After CSSU administrators received a public record request, Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said all contract information would be released Thursday.
“We really wanted to wait until everything was official, but we don’t have anything to hide,” Pinckney said.
In the meantime, both sides said they’re relieved the lengthy, and sometimes contentious, negotiations concluded amicably. Lisa Bisbee, chief negotiator for the Chittenden South Education Association, said she’s pleased the negotiations reached a conclusion.
“Nobody got everything they wanted, but I think we’re all happy this is done,” said Bisbee, who is also a special educator at Williston Central School.
Educators from the Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, Williston and Champlain Valley Union High School districts make up the Chittenden South Education Association, also known as the CSEA.
Darlene Worth, a Williston School Board member and chairwoman of the CSSU School Board and negotiating team, said she’s pleased the negotiations ended on a good note.
“There were some times when neither side thought we could get it done,” Worth said.
Both sides expressed hope that a settlement was imminent after a CSSU board meeting on Feb. 1, where more than 200 teachers turned out to support a contract. During the meeting, the board weighed a possible contract imposition, but instead favored returning to the negotiating table.
Also at that meeting, the CSEA proposed a counter offer to an earlier CSSU proposal put forth in January. In return, the CSSU board delivered its own counter offer.
“I have to give the board, and especially Darlene Worth, a lot of credit,” Bisbee said. “They wanted to keep negotiating and that made all the difference.”
Negotiations began in late 2009 and continued past the contract expiration date of June 30, 2010. Having reached a stalemate, a fact finder was called in to find consensus. After the fact finder issued a report in September, negotiations continued. At times, CSSU and CSEA negotiators publicly expressed frustration with each other as the months dragged on.
From the beginning, negotiators struggled to reach a compromise on step increases and health care premium payments. CSSU recently asked teachers to agree to a 2 percent increase in salary raises for the first year of a contract, with 3 percent in raises for the second year. The board also asked teachers to increase their health care premium payments from 13 percent in the first contract year to 15 percent in the second.
Another major stumbling block revolved around automatic step increases for eligible teachers during the negotiations process. The CSSU board, at first, said it did not support paying teachers the raises in the midst of negotiations, but changed its stance earlier this month. Worth believes the board’s concession to the automatic raises helped end negotiations last week.
Worth said the process, while lengthy, was a negotiation in the truest sense of the word; both sides had to make compromises they weren’t happy about. But she also said she’s pleased CSSU and the CSEA agreed without resorting to a contract imposition and impending strike.
Bisbee echoed Worth’s sentiment and looks forward to both sides continuing a strong relationship.
“We both got something that we can live with and works for both of us,” Bisbee said.
The Chittenden South Supervisory Union and Chittenden South Education Association are expected to release contract details this Thursday after the Observer goes to press. Once the paper receives the information, it will be posted on the Observer’s website, www.willistonobserver.com.