With Teacher Strike Looming, School Board Goes Into Executive Session

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(Host) At this hour the South Burlington school board is discussing ways to avoid a teacher’s strike next week.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the two sides have deadlocked over whether salary increases can be suspended if no new contract is in place.

(Dillon) The school board went into executive session late Friday afternoon to discuss collective bargaining issues. At stake is whether South Burlington’s 24-hundred students could see their five schools closed next week in the first teacher’s strike in the city’s history.

(Fitzgerald) "We certainly don’t want a strike."

(Dillon) Elizabeth Fitzgerald is acting chairman of the board for the contract issues.

Fitzgerald said two new members have joined the board since Town meeting Day and need to be briefed on the contract dispute.

(Fitzgerald) "As has been pointed out we had about 40 percent of our board turnover and our chairman has had to recuse himself from these discussions so we have a four member board that will be discussing next steps."

(Dillon) Negotiations between the school board and the South Burlington Educator’s Association broke down last month.

Some issues such as the teacher’s share of health insurance premiums have been settled. But the talks deadlocked over whether contract terms for step pay increases would be honored if there’s no new contract in place. Richard Wise is the co-president of the union.

(Wise) "What they want to do is to force teachers to follow an expired contract without having to honor the negotiated salaries that are contained in it. They want to pick and chose which part of an expired contract they want to follow."

(Host) But board member Fitzgerald said the board has tried to protect city taxpayers.

(Fitzgerald) "The concern that our educators have is really around affecting their career ladder which is in place right now. We support having a career ladder and support having compensation in place associated with that career ladder. We thought it was responsible in this economy that we have an opportunity for our taxpayers to really negotiate that contract before that automatically goes into effect."

(Dillon) Wise said he’s hopeful a strike can be averted. But he pointed out that the strike vote was unanimous by the 250 members of the teachers union.

(Wise) "I mean that was not a symbolic move. That is what we intend to do. We opened up our strike headquarters at 100 Dorset Street. And while it’s true that we’re hopeful, and certainly we’re willing to sit down anywhere anyplace for as long as it takes to come to an agreement we’re also very mindful of the fact that we can’t control what they do."

(Dillon) School administrators in South Burlington have said they would teach classes and stick to the school schedule if teachers walk out next week.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.

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