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Negotiators Reach Tentative Agreement To End Burlington Teachers Strike

Burlington high school teachers on the picket line
Pat Bradley/WAMC

School is back in session today in Vermont’s largest city. The Burlington School Board and the union representing teachers reached a tentative contract agreement Tuesday night, ending a four-day strike that kept nearly 4,000 students out of schools across the district.
A mediator called the two sides together Tuesday after the district’s 400 teachers took to the picket lines last Thursday.  After an eight-hour bargaining session, the two sides emerged and announced an agreement had been reached.  School Board Chief Negotiator Stephanie Seguino said the past few weeks have been very difficult but much has been learned.  “We’re committing to work together towards a collaborative and cooperative relationship.  This will require us to sit down and listen to each other so that the Board understands the challenges that teachers face and the teachers help us understand how to integrate their expertise into a coordinated strategy for achieving our mutual goals within our stewardship of community aspirations and financial parameters. For my part I will do everything I can to help start us on this path as soon as it’s feasible so that we move forward and not repeat the mistakes of the past and so that our school district reflects what is best about Burlington.”

Burlington Education Association Chief Negotiator Bob Church:  “We are on the front lines as teachers and we’re committed to the kids in the class.  And I do believe we share a commitment to move forward and create the schools that best serve our kids.”

Burlington School District Superintendent Yaw Obeng was part of the negotiation team. He says there had been intense conversation between the two sides for some time before Tuesday’s formal session.   “What people don’t really understand is that when we’re not, ah,  publically not speaking in terms of having meetings and during the strike there are still communications happening back and forth and when they get to a certain level where it sounds like there’s enough of a dialog for the mediator to bring us back and to look at offers then that happens.  So it’s kind of a buildup.  It’s been building up for the last few months I would say in terms of you know going back and forth and then people reflecting on positions and then eventually getting to the point that okay we have to have a deal now. So what are we willing to compromise on in order to make this happen.”

Burlington Education Association President Fran Brock is glad to be back in the classroom and relieved the two sides came to an agreement.  While she cannot discuss details she says the teachers’ key issue was addressed.  “We weren’t going to agree to a contract that didn’t meet certain standards that we had set for ourselves, for lack of a better way of putting it.  So what we ended up with you know per usual neither side got everything that we wanted but we’ve made sufficient gains at resolving the problems that we agreed. We’ve settled.”

Both sides said they cannot disclose specifics about the agreement until it is ratified, which must be done by both sides.  Obeng expects that to occur quickly.  “The union will be meeting after school to ratify and I suspect that at this point that the board is looking to hold an emergency meeting to ratify to approve the contract right after the union has done their work. We want to get it done. We’re ready to move on and get to learning.”

Brock reports that teachers will meet at 4 o’clock to review the contract and vote.  She is confident teachers will ratify it.  “Our negotiating team led by Bob Church did a phenomenal job.  They worked so hard and I think generally the teachers respect the work that they’ve done and I’d be surprised if they said no.”

The Burlington School Board will hold an emergency meeting at 6 o’clock tonight to hold a ratification vote.

Audio of the press conference is courtesy of Vermont Digger.

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