Teacher contract mediation fails

Parties move to fact finding

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Mediation last week failed to result in a new contract for teachers in Chittenden South Supervisory Union, of which Williston schools and Champlain Valley Union High School are members.

“We made progress in the mediation, there’s no question about that,” said attorney Scott Cameron of Zalinger Cameron & Lambek, P.C. Cameron is the chief negotiator for the CSSU School Board negotiating team. “The two issues that are getting the most attention are salary and health care. … The board and the association are still a fair distance apart, especially on salary I’d say. The health care is getting closer.”

Members of the CSSU School Board and the local education association met with mediator Ira Lobel, a former commissioner with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, last Wednesday. Lobel is often called upon to mediate teacher contract disputes in Vermont when early negotiations fail to yield agreement. Parties in Chittenden South began negotiations in November for a contract to replace the one expiring June 30.

Details from the mediation are confidential, as neither party is bound to the offers made, Cameron said.

Christopher Hood, President of the Chittenden South Education Association, said teachers are “exceedingly disappointed” they’ll be starting the year without a contract.

“We know that budgets have already been approved in all of the towns that would more than adequately fund a reasonable settlement,” Hood said.

Hood said the association would be open to meeting again with the boards even as both parties move forward with the next step in negotiations, hiring a fact finder.

A fact finder will review comparable local teacher settlements and towns’ ability to pay for increases. Cameron said both parties have a month to prepare their fact-finding positions. The fact finder then will require roughly a month, Cameron said, to review points of discrepancy and issue recommendations. The fact finder’s report is confidential for the first 10 days after the parties receive it, in hopes an agreement can be reached. If not, the report becomes public.

Comparable teacher settlements are likely to be the most influential to a fact finder’s work, Cameron said. A fact finder report issued last year in neighboring Chittenden East Supervisory Union showed that other recent local teacher settlements gave roughly 4 percent annual salary increases. (Chittenden East is comprised of schools in Bolton, Huntington, Jericho, Richmond and Underhill, and Mount Mansfield Union High School.)

Over the last three years, CSSU teacher salaries have increased 4.55 percent each year. The Chittenden County average over the same period is 4.66 percent, according to data provided earlier this spring by CSSU. 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.

Teachers’ contributions to health care premiums were a sore point among some Williston voters in the last budget cycle. The Chittenden East fact finder acknowledged that 20 percent contributions “may soon become the norm,” but that currently 10 percent contributions are more prevalent.

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 CSSU data.