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Burlington Teachers Continue Strike

Burlington teachers on strike
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Burlington, Vermont’s 400 public school teachers are back on the picket line today after contract negotiations fell apart and a strike began last Thursday.
The Burlington Education Association, the union representing teachers in the elementary, middle and high schools, says the sticking point is scheduling time for elementary teachers to prepare and to work one-on-one with students.  Burlington Education Association President Fran Brock said Monday morning that teachers held a union meeting on Friday and are committed to the strike.   “The teachers are supportive of this. They understand what it is that they’re striking for.  And it’s not like it just happened this year out of the blue.  This has been building for a few years and this the year the teachers just we’ve had enough!  We need to be heard.  We need to be respected and our profession respected. And so we really still have very strong from the membership from the Burlington teachers.”

Brock said teachers were excited to see the community support during a rally in City Hall Park Sunday afternoon.   “It became clear that the community understands that the issue is time.  The teachers they need the time to work with kids, to prepare to work with kids.  The other piece is we that really need the paraeducators to be doing the non-teaching pieces so that the teachers do have the professional time for the more formal education. You know the teachers and paraeducators they’ve got to work as a team and they do work well as a team to serve each and every child.  And it was really good to see that the community members understood why this strike happened and what the issues are.”

Negotiations fell apart over elementary non-teaching duties.  Brock says for years they have tried to get elementary teachers more one-on-one time with students but the board continues to assign non-teaching duties.  

When the strike began on Thursday, School Board President Mark Porter said they had compromised on some of the non-teaching duties, but are adamant teachers remain on lunch and recess monitoring.   “We’re really concerned with this because that is the place where the unstructured atmosphere  is where the racism, the sexism, the bullying, the taking advantage of the little ones, that’s when it occurs. Much as the teachers want to we want to protect the kids during the whole school day. What we did offer was across the schools just only have no teacher do more than three periods of duties a week. And they said no.  But that’s going to be a sticking point forever because we just are not willing to have anybody but the professional teachers out there during those periods in order to protect these children. And it’s needed.”

Porter on Thursday also said the union had rejected the board’s salary offer.  “We did everything we possibly could to avert the strike.  And in doing so we ended up with a percentage increase over three years.  We want a three year contract. We want, ah, the percentage increase over three years was over 8 percent and it would have equated to over $6,000 in salary increases over those three years. And it was soundly rejected.”

Brock, on Thursday, disputed the school board’s scenario and said the two sides were close on fiscal issues.  “They did offer a couple of versions of a three year contract.  I don’t think anything added up to eight percent.  But it didn’t matter because the other problem with a three year contract is Act 85 requires everybody to go back into negotiations for health care again in two years. So we were all looking for a two year contract which is true statewide because of Act 85.”

With the strike continuing Monday,  Brock says a number of officials have been working in the background and she hopes it could lead to a break in the stalemate.  “Representatives from both sides are talking.  We certainly have a lot of very respected people, state legislators, representatives, city councilors, they really are kind of talking behind the scenes and trying to move us forward which we really appreciate.  You know when the mediator calls us back we will go back.”

Following the Monday morning interview, Brock told WAMC that the union had been notified by mediator Ira Lobell that they will go back to the table sometime Tuesday. Details were pending.

Porter said he had not yet heard anything and declined to speak on tape.

Burlington Education Association members will continue picketing until a contract is negotiated.

 

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