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School contract reaches stillwater

Lanny Smith, chairman of Mount Abe's school board and chairman of the negotiating team, feels the school board's offer is fair and that the board has negotiated in good faith.

"This isn't against the teachers," he said. Instead, it's a reflection of current economic conditions - the taxpayers can't afford to continue to pay what the teacher's union is asking for. "Lots of schools have settled for smaller increases in salary in order to avoid cutting positions."

A final public meeting held last week did not bring any resolution. Although it was well attended, one observer felt that the attendees were mainly teachers and their families and friends, and that the general public was not well represented at the meeting.

"Message to the school boards: At some point, somebody has to say 'enough,'" said Starksboro resident John Jefferies, who attended the meeting.

Between 75 percent and 80 percent of all school expenses are for personnel; primarily salaries and benefits. Consequently, there is a direct relationship between growth in teacher costs and property taxes.

On the other side of the table, the teachers feel equally frustrated with the process and the outcome.

"Obviously it's a slap in the face," said Heather Parkhurst, the union's chief negotiator and a calculus teacher at Mt. Abraham Union High School. "The teachers are angry and feeling very underappreciated. It's unfortunate that the board and the public don't get that."

Superintendent Evelyn Howard is also disheartened with the current situation and said that the boards are concerned that the process remains respectful, and that they highly value the teaching staff of all the schools.

"We wouldn't have wanted this, and I'm hopeful we can move forward," said Howard, adding that she hopes the teachers will take some time to consider their choices, which are either accept the imposed contract or call for a strike.

Parkhurst said a strike would only be called with the intention of bringing the school boards back to the negotiating table. However, Howard and Smith are both hopeful that the teachers will accept the imposed contract and move forward with the next round of negotiations targeting June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

"We want to start again as soon as we can and move on," Parkhurst said.

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