October 2, 2014

Teacher contract negotiations remain quiet

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By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Local teacher contract negotiations for the new school year are still underway, and little information is available on progress. But a year-old report from a neighboring school supervisory union may offer hints on where the talks are headed.

The current contract for Chittenden South Supervisory Union (CSSU), of which Williston schools and Champlain Valley Union High School are a part, expires at the end of June. Since November, school board representatives and members of the Chittenden South teachers’ association have been discussing the components of a new teacher contract that would take effect July 1.

The current contract includes 47 pages of definitions and agreements on everything from number of teaching days and professional development benefits to sick leave and grounds for termination.

Neither school board members nor teachers are allowed to discuss the details of the talks, a common ground rule in negotiations.

“The possibility exists if you let the general public become aware of where certain things are positioning, all of a sudden constituents on both sides become involved in the process and put pressure on specific items,” said Earl Walters, a former chair of the Williston School Board. [Disclosure: Walters’ wife is an employee at the Williston Observer.] Since, in Walters’ experience, contracts must be accepted in their entirety and not as each piece is decided, he said, at any given time one part of the agreement may change.

“You don’t want to get the constituents on one side or the other – the teachers or the public – to get excited about one piece of the agreement that may go away.”

In general if initial negotiations fail, a mediator is called in to assist. If mediation fails, a fact finder is hired to review the points of discrepancy and provide recommendations based on research on other school districts. At that point, the fact finder’s report is public information.

Chittenden East Supervisory Union had to make use of a fact finder last year after initial negotiations failed. That fact finder’s report may provide clues about the kind of information likely to be considered in CSSU negotiations. Chittenden East, part of Chittenden County, includes the communities of Bolton, Huntington, Jericho, Richmond, and Underhill and Mount Mansfield Union High School.

The two costliest components of the current Chittenden South contract are salaries and health insurance, both of which are addressed in detail in the Chittenden East fact finder’s report.

Salaries

The Chittenden East fact finder’s report indicates salary settlements in the county have been declining.

“The first few years of this decade saw relatively generous salary settlements within Chittenden County,” the report reads. “…While settlements of 5 percent or more were seen in a few districts in 2005-06…no such high numbers have been seen since then. … the multi-year figures appear to be more in the area of 4 percent (or less) rather than 4.5-5 percent.”

CVU High School and Williston teacher salaries have increased 4.55 percent each of the last three years, the same as the rest of Chittenden South. The Chittenden County average over the same period is 4.66 percent. The average salary this year for a full-time teacher in Williston schools is $60,924; the average CVU High School teacher salary is $57,768. The discrepancy is related to experience, according to Cindy Koenemann-Warren, CSSU director of personnel: 95 percent of Williston teachers have a master’s degree or higher; at CVU 89 percent do.

CSSU teachers are paid based on a combination of educational background and amount of professional experience. Newly hired teachers with only a bachelor’s degree and four or fewer years of experience earn the bottom salary (currently $36,167). The top salary listed in the contract ($72,334) is for teachers with at least 17 years of experience and either more than 30 college credits beyond a master’s degree, or 60 college credits beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Health insurance

The Chittenden East fact finder’s report states the author, Lawrence E. Katz, does not believe a fact finder should recommend changes to health insurance premium allocations that are significantly different from county averages; such a change, he wrote, should be “part of the give-and-take of the bargaining process.”

“In this world of cost sharing, 80-20 percent allocations may soon become the norm,” the report says. “At present however, the evidence presented herein indicates that 90-10 percent allocations are still more prevalent, particularly within Chittenden County… Although higher employee shares are now found in some of the more urban out-of-county settings (Barre, Montpelier and St. Albans), the same is not true of the Chittenden county ‘urban’ districts … Nor is it true of most of the rural out-of-county districts.”

CVU High School and Williston teachers contribute 10 percent of the premium cost of either a single, two-person or family insurance plan. The current county average is 11 percent, with the teachers’ share increasing slightly next year, according to data from CSSU. CSSU teachers may elect to forego coverage and instead receive payments: single plan payments are $700; two-person plan payments are $1,200; and family plan pay payments are $1,500.

Outside the contract

Teacher, staff and administrator salaries and benefits make up about 74 percent of local school budgets, according to Bob Mason, Chittenden South Supervisory Union chief operations officer.

Salaries for principals and supervisory union administrators are not set by contract, but instead are based on the previous year’s job performance, according to Mason. For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006, the average administrator salary increase was 6.7 percent. Respective school boards sign off on administrator salaries under their jurisdiction.

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