BRISTOL - Several unresolved issues are preventing the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union and the teachers union from reaching a contract agreement. If the school boards, representing the five town elementary schools and Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School do not restart the stalled negotiations, the boards could decide to impose a contract on the teachers, the teachers will then have to decide whether to accept the boards offer or strike.
At the heart of the matter are three major issues: automatic "step" increases for teachers, salary increases and health insurance contributions.
Currently, most Vermont school districts pay teachers on a salary schedule that sets increases based on a teacher's years of experience, called "step" increases. Teachers move up one step for each year of experience until reaching the top of the schedule. ANESU currently pays increases of $1,606, which represents 2.5 percent of total salaries. The fact that these increases are automatic, and must be paid even without a new contract, concerns the boards , who believe the amount is too high in light of current economic realities and whose members must present budgets to financially strained and tax weary citizens at their Town Meetings in March. The boards have proposed to make the step increases part of the process of negotiating compensation rather than automatic. The union, on the other hand, wants teachers to continue receiving the increases automatically, remaining outside and separate from the negotiating process. According to Lanny Smith, chairman of the Mount Abe school board, the boards are united in their determination to negotiate the step increases in future contracts, which is being met with a great deal of resistance from union representatives, who see the increases as an established labor practice that should not be negated.
On top of step increases, the union is asking for a 2.9 percent salary increase. The boards, in what they deem a compromise measure, have offered to extend the stop increases for the entire school year, which they say will provide the majority of teaches with increases averaging 2.5%.
The third major hurdle is the teacher's health insurance contribution, which is currently ten percent of their premiums. School board members have proposed doubling the contribution to 20 percent, which is comparable to the average contribution by taxpayers and Vermont State employees. When that proposal was met with resistance the boards subsequently proposed a 15% compromise. Negotiation are still under way, and both sides say they are hopeful for a successful resolution that includes neither imposition nor a strike, which would adversely effect students and other staff members.