D > Teachers Ratify Contract; Strike Averted

Teachers Ratify Contract; Strike Averted

There will be no picket lines surrounding area schools today.

By a nearly unanimous vote, rank and file teachers in the Caledonia North Education Association ratified a three-year contract, Tuesday, negotiated over the past year with the combined boards of the Caledonia North Supervisory Union.

The teachers - from schools in Lyndon, Burke, Sheffield, Newark, Sutton and East Haven - had scheduled a strike vote for Tuesday afternoon but instead found themselves voting 82-3-1 to ratify the tentative contract agreed to just hours earlier by the association negotiating team. The team included seven teachers and Vermont National Education Association negotiator Joyce Foster. "There were lots of happy faces," reported CNEA president Linda Broadwater after the vote.

"I'm obviously very glad they voted to accept it," said combined boards spokesman Kevin Calkins of Lyndon. "That's obviously what I was hoping for and I'm glad and relieved that we can put this behind us and get back to educating kids."

The agreement still must be approved by each of the six individual school boards in warned public meetings, but CNSU Superintendent Mary Ann Riggie is confident the agreement will see little opposition. "I'm not anticipating that any board would reject it," she said.

She agreed the final agreement came after a lot of hard work on both sides of the labor dispute. "I think it was tough for both sides," she said. "They each had to make concessions they didn't want to make, but I guess that's the nature of negotiations."

The agreement was reached after two marathon negotiating sessions Sunday and Monday between the teachers and the boards. The association team and CNSU negotiating board met face-to-face for about 10 hours on Sunday afternoon without Foster or the CNSU negotiator, attorney Dennis Wells. The two sides met again, this time with Foster and Wells, on Monday night in a session facilitated by federal mediator Ira Lobel. That session lasted until early Tuesday morning, when the teachers accepted what was termed the board's final proposal.

Lyndon school board member Joe Benning had suggested a representative-free meeting at a contentious Thursday night CNSU meeting as a way to resolve the issues driving the dispute.

Benning had strongly hinted that the boards would agree to such a meeting if asked. On Friday, the teachers asked and the Sunday meeting was scheduled for 3 p.m. Calkins and Broadwater agreed that the Sunday session, which lasted well past midnight, was an important step in coming to an agreement. "I would say there was a definite current that we ought to sit down face to face, without the professionals," said Calkins.

"I think there was a lot of good discussion on the rationale behind what the boards proposed," said Broadwater. "Even though we didn't come to an agreement, I think we needed to do that."

Calkins said it gave the two sides an opportunity to pare down the list of about 20 issues to the most divisive issues at the heart of the dispute.

"It dramatically narrowed the number of issues that were left open so that Monday night could be more focused on the 10 to 12 core issues," he said.

Those core issues included monetary issues such as salary, health care co- payments, and the number of teacher work days. They also included teacher evaluations, funding of professional development activities, sick leave and long- term disabilty insurance.

The actual agreement, which will be open to public inspection, is still in note form and not currently available. "It's all in pieces," said Riggie.

Salary Agreement

However, it is known that the agreement gives the teachers a 3 percent raise per year over the duration of the contract. The raise will not be retroactive to the beginning of the school year (July 1). It will become effective Nov. 16.

It is reportedly the number recommended in the "fact finders" report and higher than the boards' original offers of 1.5 percent and 2.1 percent. It is lower, however, than the 6 percent raise originally asked for by the teachers.

Contract Wording

According to Broadwater, some contract wording that had ignited emotional responses from the teachers was also changed. "They dropped a lot of the disturbing language that eliminated some employee rights," she said.

Calkins said the negotiating strategies employed over the last year will likely come under a great deal of scrutiny by the boards. "It's a matter of concern to a lot of board members," he said. "I can virtually gaurantee that there will be discussion on it."

He also expressed hope that "rifts" that developed between the boards and teachers over the dispute could be healed, saying, "I hope people on both sides can just let it go. There's nothing personal here. I don't have any problem with the teachers. They did what they felt they had to do. Let's get on with things."

Members of both negotiating teams said the marathon sessions of the last week (starting with Thursday's 51/2 -hour CNSU meeting) had taken their toll.

"It's been very stressful," said Broadwater. "I hope we don't ever have to do this ever again."

"Sleep is a concept I'd like to get reacquainted with," said Calkins.

Copyright 1998

The Caledonian-Record



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