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Teacher Contract Ratified By Both Sides, Formally Ending Burlington Teachers’ Strike

A week after school came to an abrupt halt in Burlington, both sides ratified a tentative contract Wednesday formally ending a four-day teachers’ strike in Vermont’s largest city.
The union representing teachers and the school board met with a mediator on Tuesday to hash out the issues that led to picketing.  After eight hours, a tentative contract was announced.
On Wednesday afternoon the 400 members of the union met to review the new contract and vote.  Burlington Education Association President Fran Brock stood in front of teachers gathered at the high school, saying it was overwhelmingly approved on a 96.4 percent vote.  “Today I am happy to announce that my fellow members and I just voted to ratify a contract. On behalf of Burlington’s teachers I say thank you to the citizens of Burlington.  I know the teachers’ strike was stressful and all were anxious but sometimes it takes a radical action to move us all forward. I’m hopeful that this crisis will bring about change that encourages respectful collaboration among teachers, administrators and parents. Be assured that we will be there for your children.”
Brock believes community pressure helped bring the sides together.  “I think everybody was more serious. Certainly I think board members were more serious in really looking at the issues that we raised and to listen to us and our concerns. And neither side got everything it wanted but I think we sort of are walking away with enough to make us feel like we’ve had success.”  

Because the teachers ratified the deal before the school board, they could not divulge details of the contract.  About an hour after the educators approved the contract the Burlington School Board held an emergency session.  Stephanie Seguino, who was the board’s chief negotiator, announced unanimous approval.   “This was a very difficult process. There are some relationships that need to be rebuilt as a result of this. But we, that is the board, is committed to engaging in processes that will build a collaborative relationship with the BEA and will help us moving forward address a variety of the issues, understand the teachers’ roles better, understand what they bring to the table and also hopefully share with the BEA and the teachers some of the context in which the board makes decisions. So we’re very happy about that.  That actually is a component of the settlement itself.”

The two-year contract includes a 2.5 percent salary increase the first year and 2.75 percent the following year.  Teachers will pay 19 percent of health care premiums in the first year and 20 percent in the second year.
Burlington School District Superintendent Yaw Obeng said one of the key factors was unstructured time.  “That’s before class starts, after dismissal, lunch and particularly recess.  We know that’s when bullying and harassment happens. And we’re pleased that in the contract that we have a partnership with our teachers and our administrators to support students in that endeavor.”

One of the complaints that led to the strike was that teachers felt they were not respected.  Brock hopes there will be a continuing and open dialogue with administrators.   "I hope we have regained some of the respect.  I know that there were efforts already starting today for at least building administrators and teachers to start figuring out how can we work more collaboratively together and be more respectful. It’s going to take time but we’re hoping that we are going to move in right direction.”

Seguino says the board plans to continue conversations with the BEA to improve the relationship with the teachers.   “The most gratifying moments of these long, long negotiations were the times that we were meeting face to face and I think it makes it easier to reach agreements when you have that kind of structure and that’s what we’re looking forward to implementing.”

The Burlington Education Association plans to post details of the contract on its website.

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