Vermont House considers statewide contracts for teachers

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(Host) The head of the House Education committee says she’s not enthusiastic about implementing a statewide teachers’ contract in Vermont.

However Calais Representative Janet Ancel says negotiating contracts along regional lines might make a lot of sense.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Roughly 15 years ago, a House member named Wright sponsored legislation to implement a statewide teachers’ contract in Vermont. This week another House member named Wright has introduced exactly the same piece of legislation.

The first Wright was Democratic House Speaker Ralph Wright. The second is Burlington Republican Kurt Wright. They’re not related.

Kurt Wright wants lawmakers to reconsider a statewide teachers’ contract for two reasons.

First, he says it will end the practice of towns being pressured to match the salaries of neighboring communities. And, second, he thinks it will greatly reduce the possibility of a strike by teachers. That’s something he says a number of towns have had to face in recent years:

(Wright) “Those strikes are so divisive and so disruptive to parents and the kids’ education and divisive for the entire community I think it’s a really bad situation and one that we should never want to have happen where a teacher is pitted against parts of the community and against the school board and the school board pitted against some of the community members. It just creates a situation which I think is just very hard to recover from for the community afterwards.”

(Kinzel) Angelo Dorta is the executive director of the Vermont NEA, the state’s teachers union. Dorta opposes a statewide contract for teachers:

(Dorta) “From an educator’s point of view, when you’ve had nearly successive 20 years of underfunding, the state teachers retirement system educators are skeptical with good reason about the state’s ability to carry through with its financial promise. So depending on your perspective there are good reasons to wonder whether it’s practical.”

(Kinzel) Dorta says his group doesn’t oppose establishing teacher contracts along the boundaries of supervisory unions.

He notes that this is already happening on a voluntary basis in 12 districts and he says the results have been generally positive.

The head of the House Education committee, Janet Ancel, agrees with Dorta on the possibility of using supervisory union districts as the focal point for regional contracts.

She says this approach might be added to a plan proposed by Education Commissioner Richard Cate to consolidate school districts throughout the state:

(Ancel) “I feel that there’s really more promise in looking at regional contracts and regional could be defined in a bunch of different ways. But looking at the governance proposal that the commissioner has put forward, regional might be supervisory union related so I think we probably will look more at regional contracts than we would a statewide teacher contract.”

(Kinzel) Ancel says her committee is scheduled to get an update in several weeks from Commissioner Cate concerning public reaction to his consolidation proposal.

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

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