Legislator Pushes For New Focus On Statewide Teacher’s Contract

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(Host) It’s been awhile since lawmakers have seriously considered legislation to implement a statewide teacher’s contract.

But as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, one legislator is raising the issue this year to spark new discussions about such a plan.

(Kinzel) East Montpelier Rep. Tony Klein was the chair of the U-32 School Board for a number of years and this session he’s sponsoring the bill to implement a statewide teachers contract

He hopes there will be an active discussion about his plan because he says local school boards spend far too much time locked in bitter negotiations over new labor contracts:

(Klein) "If you look at really what a school board is supposed to do, it’s supposed to be developing education philosophy and policies and it’s really not about the money and that’s what you get bogged down in today… I think a statewide

teacher’s contract – as difficult as it will be to get the first one, because it may be hard and it may be expensive but – it takes all that rancor right out of the equation."

(Kinzel) Klein says he deliberately introduced a bill with few details because he wants key legislative committees to take a fresh look at this issue:

(Klein) "If you don’t introduce something like this you don’t have the conversation and I’m not afraid to introduce it and I figured I wouldn’t drag anybody with me and I did it on my own and again I didn’t make it an in depth bill I did it in short form – here’s the subject matter, you know what the subject is now discuss it… So let the discussions begin."

(Kinzel) Joel Cook is a spokesperson for Vermont NEA – the state’s teachers union.  He thinks there are serious problems with a statewide contract.

 (Cook) "The fact that negotiations are contentious these days should come as no surprise to anybody given the economic climate that we’re all in…this is about human relations and the relationships we’re talking about are between employees and their employers not between people who are called teachers and the state of Vermont."

(Kinzel) Cook notes that Vermont NEA did strongly support a plan several years ago to shift labor negotiations from the local school level to the supervisory union level.  He says it’s been a success.

(Cook) "It’s much more efficient, you end up with far fewer person hours involved in negotiations and you get similar provisions within the multiple districts that make up an individual supervisory union…I think it’s been successful and I think most people will agree."

(Kinzel) Despite this change, teachers and school officials in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union district have been unable to reach agreement on a new labor contract. The teachers have authorized a strike vote and could walk off the job later this week.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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