District, teachers settle employment contract

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Champlain Valley School Board and the local teachers union settled on a one-year employment contract shortly after the school year began in September. 

The contract takes over for a two-year deal that expired in June. The sides were only comfortable with a one-year agreement because of pandemic-related uncertainty about school district finances in the coming years. They plan to return to negotiations this fall to work on an agreement that can take over when the new contract expires this coming June. 

The new contract gives a roughly 3.2 percent salary increase for teachers on average, with larger raises going to teachers with the most seniority, who have been maxed out on seniority pay increases under the current salary grid.

Negotiations on the contract started last winter and were paused when schools shut down during the beginning of the pandemic in the spring. They resumed over videoconference through the summer, and teachers entered the school year without a new deal.

“We are happy to be done with it,” said Lisa Bisbee, a special educator at Williston Central School and the lead contract negotiator for the teachers union. “Not having a contract always looms over the school culture and it’s something teachers have in the back of their minds to worry about. With the hybrid (remote learning) model, we have enough on our plate right now. Now, our energy can be focused where it needs to be, on teaching.”

The contract includes a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) to create a process for changing working conditions related to the pandemic. The MOU calls for negotiations between teachers and the district whenever a change in schedule or job duties are needed. 

Examples include work-day expectations of teachers who are teaching remotely and district supplies of personal protective equipment, hand-washing stations and masks. 

“The MOU is a way to make sure administrators don’t change schedules or change someone’s duties without coming to us,” Bisbee said. “We will decide that together.” 

The new contract is the first to incorporate a statewide health insurance provision for teachers. The statewide insurance increases teachers’ share of premiums from 16 percent to 20 percent. Throughout negotiations, teachers sought to increase their salaries to offset this increase in health insurance costs.

The 3.2 percent raise — which is a larger annual raise than teachers received in the previous contract — accomplishes that.

“What we really needed was an offset for the new health care money we will be paying, and we were able to get that,” said Bisbee. “We are pleased.”

The school board has also agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the district’s support staff. It includes a 3.5 percent salary increase for custodians, food service staff and intensive paraeducators.