Teacher contract negotiations imminent (8/27/09)

Aug. 27, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The current economic climate may play a significant role in teacher contract negotiations, which are due to start this school year. When the Williston School Board meets on Sept. 2 for its first meeting of the school year, contracts will be one of the main topics discussed, board Chairwoman Darlene Worth said.

The current Chittenden South Supervisory Union teacher contract expires in June 2010 and Worth said negotiations could take much of the school year. It’s a process she said is important for the benefit of teachers and the community.

This year’s negotiations come in the face of an economic recession. With money tight for residents as well as schools and municipalities, Worth expects people to pay close attention to what is agreed upon in a new contract.

“I think everybody realizes these are very difficult times,” Worth said.

CSSU Superintendent Elaine Pinckney said the recession will be a major factor when school board and Chittenden South Education Association representatives sit down later in the school year to discuss contracts.

“I think we’re all hoping this goes smoothly,” Pinckney said. “I think if we can stay focused on what’s best for the kids, then I don’t believe we’ll have any major problems.”

The Chittenden South Education Association is the union to which teachers in CSSU belong. No one from the association could be reached for comment prior to press deadline.

Contract negotiations last took place during the 2006-2007 school year. Negotiations at that time took more than a year and extended beyond the previous contract’s expiration date of July 1, 2007. Teachers then worked without a contract until the current one was ratified in October 2007.

Disagreements over salaries and health care proved to be the biggest stumbling blocks two years ago. Worth believes those two issues will again be the most discussed topics in the coming months.

“Health insurance especially is still one of those big, key issues,” Worth said.

Worth and fellow board member Keith Roy were the Williston School Board’s representatives during CSSU contract negotiations in 2006 and 2007.

Under the current contract, teacher contributions to health insurance plans are 12 percent.

As for salaries, individual pay increases vary depending on educational background and experience. But CSSU’s budget for salary increases has hovered around 4 percent since ratification of the current contract.

Worth said she’s been carefully watching contract negotiations in other districts, notably Winooski and Chittenden East Supervisory Union. Teachers in CESU said they may strike after the district’s school boards imposed a contract in June after negotiations broke down.

“These are hard times and it’s important to see how other districts around us are handling it,” Worth said.

Pinckney is hopeful that CSSU’s negotiations don’t break down the way Chittenden East and Winooski’s have.

“We certainly don’t anticipate that’s going to happen,” Pinckney said, referring to imposing a contract.

Worth said she expects to receive a letter from the Chittenden South Education Association in November detailing what the teachers want in a new contract. Meetings will then begin and likely last into 2010.