Burlington, Vermont teachers rejected a school board-imposed contract Thursday and voted to go on strike next week.
After an unsuccessful bargaining session on August 31st that lasted more than seven hours, the Burlington School Board voted 9 to 1 the next day to impose a contract on teachers for the next year. It is the second year the board has imposed contract terms. Last year negotiators reached a one-year deal before a strike was scheduled to begin.
Late Thursday afternoon teachers rejected the imposed contract and Burlington Education Association President Fran Brock announced they would strike starting next Wednesday if the school board doesn't return to the negotiating table and settle. Brock, a history teacher at the high school, said they two sides aren’t that far apart on money issues and health care. The problem, she says, is with working conditions. “The board was insisting that it would not implement a plan that has been in the works for about three years for the elementary schools where the teachers would not be assigned non-teaching duties and would in fact be able then to have more time to really focus on the instructional responsibility. The other sticking point was we were opposed to giving principals carte blanche to give us what would be a seventh assignment. So that’s where things kind of broke down.”
Brock noted that 95 percent of the union members approved a strike beginning September 13 if the board doesn't come back to the table. “Part of it is for at least the last three years it’s been this sort of drumbeat of cut, cut, cut. And the teachers are feeling like enough already. We’re feeling maligned. We’re feeling disrespected. The other piece that has got the teachers so frustrated and angry at this point and willing to strike we have lost more than a hundred faculty over the last a little over two years. And the sense is that the school board and the administration they just don’t care.”
The Burlington School Board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, a day before the planned strike. When contacted by WAMC, Board President Mark Porter deferred to the district, which was preparing to release a statement in response to the teachers’ decision. The board’s statement released Friday afternoon notes in part: “…we are seeking a collaborative solution with the teachers……We are willing to meet at any time. We have a mutually selected mediator in place. When and if the mediator or the Burlington Education Association (BEA) calls a meeting, we will be there.”
Prior to the teachers’ vote on Thursday, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said a strike would be a horrible thing for the community but was hopeful a resolution could be found. “Certainly it’s something I’m following closely. Of course the Burlington system the mayor does not have a direct role or any formal authority in these negotiations. And I’m very hopeful that they’ll get to an outcome that is good for our kids, most importantly, is good for the community and is good for the school system.”
South Burlington School District teachers also rejected a contract but have no plans to strike. According to the Vermont NEA a little more than half of school district contracts remain unsettled in the state this year.