Douglas opens discussion on teacher contract votes

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he wants the Legislature to consider a plan to have all teacher contracts put before local voters for their approval. The governor says the proposal might be a good way to help contain education costs, but the state’s largest teacher’s union thinks it’s a terrible idea.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The issue of cost containment is a top priority for many lawmakers. Two different summer study committees will look at this issue with the goal of presenting the General Assembly with specific recommendations next January.

One idea that is being considered involves the review of local teacher contracts on town meeting day. Under this plan, local voters would not only vote on their overall school budget but they would also have to give their approval to any new contracts that their school board negotiates with the local teachers’ union. The governor thinks it’s a plan that’s worthy of full discussion by the Legislature:

(Douglas) “Well it’s the biggest part of the budget. We talk about local control and the right of the voters to determine the cost of spending for their local school districts and yet, as I’m sure you know, many times voters are told at a school district meeting that 80% to 85% of the budget is untouchable. That’s not very satisfying to someone who’s concerned about the rising cost of education and the increase in property taxes. So I think there has to some way of greater connection with the costs and that’s why I think this is a debate that will be useful over the summer and fall.”

(Kinzel) But the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is strongly opposed to this plan. Spokesperson Joel Cook thinks it’s a mistake to place a complicated contract before voters :

(Cook) “If one believes that insulting 1,300 elected school board officials is good public policy then I guess it’s a good idea. The theory behind subjecting contract negotiations to the will of the electorate may have some surface attraction to those who would simply like to hammer a school district for spending or teachers for whatever. But in point of fact, it is the school boards who are privy to all of the issues and how they relate to one another at the negotiating table.”

(Kinzel) The summer study committees will also consider whether or not changes in the administrative structure of school districts could result in significant savings at the local level.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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