Thursday September 07, 2017
After impasse in contract negotiations was announced between the South Burlington Educators’ Association (SBEA) and the South Burlington School Board August 21, the two parties met several additional times in an attempt to reach a contract settlement prior to the beginning of the school year. After executive sessions August 28 and 29, as well as an open presentation to the public August 29, the board voted unanimously to impose the terms and conditions of employment for July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018. The provisions of the contract terms of July 1, 2014-June 30, 2017 will remain in effect except for the salary schedule as modified and several changes recommended by the fact finder, such as the reduction of sick days from 25 to 20. The long term disability provision remains in effect and is paid by the district.
Under the imposed terms, teachers will receive an average salary increase of $1,679 in FY 2018.
With the board’s health insurance proposal, teachers would pay the same amount in premium and average out-of-pocket expenses in the next year compared to what they paid in 2017. This means that teachers would be able to transition to the benchmark Gold CDHP plan as of January 1, 2018 without any increase in cost. The district would pay the balance of premium cost and out-of-pocket expenses, paid through an employer-funded Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). The district has also offered to match employees’ contributions to a Health Savings Account (HSA) should an employee choose this option rather than an HRA.
The change in salary schedule as well as healthcare have been big sticking points for the SBEA, but the board argues that transitioning to the index salary method will help close the widening gap between the highest and lowest paid teachers. Under the imposed one-year contract, salary increases range from $1,500 to $2,000, with junior teachers receiving higher increases to make their salaries more competitive with peers in neighboring districts. The senior teachers would still remain the most highly compensated in the state.
Currently, each salary cell is a multiplier of th
e base salary, so the highest paid individuals at step 18, receive 2.08 times the lowest cell, thus, broadening the gap between the highest and lowest paid. This change removes the multiplier and shifts more money to the Bachelors Degree columns. Teachers just beginning their career start at the lower end of the pay scale, which typically corresponds to holding only a Bachelors Degree. That initial pay proceeds upward based upon additional credits earned toward a Masters Degree and eventually a Masters Degree plus additional schooling or experiences that could contribute to enhanced education for students such as serving in the Peace Corps.
The SBEA issued a press release after impasse was declared August 21 citing disagreement with the board’s desire to modify the salary schedule as well as their healthcare proposal, saying the board’s health insurance proposals are radically out of step and that proposed changes to the salary schedule are not acceptable. The SBEA did not respond to a request for comment on the contract imposition.
Martin LaLonde explained that this is the board’s final offer. “Everyone gets a salary increase of between $1,500 and $2,000 holding on step for one year, healthcare costs remain unchanged for FY 17-19, it’s not just a fair but a reasonable settlement.”
The Vermont Legislature allows the board to declare finality as a way to move on for various reasons. During their presentation Tuesday night, the board cited some of the reasons for declaring imposition now, not the least of which is the need to get the FY 19 budget development process underway, an endeavor that is sure to be increasingly challenging given the Governor’s guidance to keep budgets level and “clawback” $304,000 from the budget that has already passed. Other factors contributing to the decision were inflation, community feedback regarding sustainability, pension funding liability, the Act 85 health care recapture, and employee education on the new health care plans given that open enrollment begins in November.
LaLonde noted that community members keep urging both sides to “continue to talk,” but LaLonde explained that they have been talking for many months. The board tried to initiate conversations with the SBEA May 4, 2016 to begin discussions regarding changes to health insurance, but the SBEA declined the invitations to meet until November.
SBEA Co-President Kathy Buley urged the same at Tuesday night’s meeting, imploring the board to resume talks. Buley said that the board’s presentation made all of their proposals seem very reasonable and that “nothing looks outrageous,” but as a teacher listening, Buley found herself thinking, “but, wait...there’s an alternate point of view” that would be showcased if the SBEA held a similar presentation.
The SBEA now has the option to accept the contract terms or exercise their right to strike. The board announced that it is prepared to begin negotiations immediately for a contract for the period July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019.
The complete language of the board’s motion, as well as their presentation from the August 29, 2017 meeting can be found on the district website.
Editor’s note: The August 29 special meeting of the South Burlington School Board took place after press time for The Other Paper’s August 31 edition.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent