As President of the BEA, let me share with you two issues of particular concern to teachers.
As of yesterday, your Board consent agenda included a teacher renewal list that indicates 248 teachers have returned their letters of intent. This leaves 160 teachers; or nearly 40% of Burlington’s teachers have either resigned, retired, asked for an extension or have unresolved contract issues. I understand that a second list will be part of your June consent agenda.
As teachers leave, past practice has been to conduct exit interviews. I hope that interviews are conducted and the Board is apprised of the reasons behind the departures. Honest dialogue about such issues should help inform Board policies and direct the administration.
My second concern is with the NEASC accreditation report, which is now circulating. It is good news to know that the NEASC commission granted accreditation for BHS. It is important, however, to focus on the recommendations made in the report to help guide necessary changes at the high school in order to insure that we are meeting the educational needs of all students.
In addition to the recommendations noted in the District’s press release, let me draw your attention to the following recommendations:
These recommendations are not trivial; meeting student needs on these terms would transform our schools. I encourage each of you to read the full report to better understand what is being done well at BHS, but also what needs to be addressed so our students have access to the high-quality education they deserve.
Burlington, VT The Burlington Education Association and Burlington Board of School Commissioners will meet with a mediator on Tuesday, April 11 in an effort to reach a fair and respectful contract. The Board declared impasse on March 17. The BEA’s proposal that will be shared with the third-party mediator reiterates two critical goals. The teachers seek a contract that ensures District resources are allocated to best meet the educational needs of all students; and promotes working conditions that attract and retain the best faculty for the city’s children.
The School Board’s proposal, which has not changed since the January exchange, fails to meet the educational needs of Burlington’s students, according to BEA leaders. The Board has invoked “goals of achieving ‘operational efficiency’ and ‘fiscal sustainability,’ which are no more than euphemisms for deeper cuts to a system that has been eroding essential services to students over the last three budget cycles,” said BEA President Fran Brock.
The BEA is concerned with elements from the Board that violate state regulations and are not in line with best teaching practices. The teachers’ union fears that the Board is ignoring state regulations with its proposed increases in elementary class sizes and the manner used to count English Learners and special education students for mainstream classes. Elementary schools also have lost foreign languages, kindergarten classes have lost paraeducator support, and middle schools have lost advanced math programs.
Teachers also take issue with the elimination of academic supports at the high school, specifically reading and special education services; and student support systems previously provided through the ASPIRE program. Reduction of support staff at Horizons and ONTOP has already critically reduced services for the most at-risk students, and the administrator’s resignation. “All of these actions contradict best practices in education,” said Brock.
The BEA questions the Board’s effort to give administrators the ability to adjust teacher assignments in the name of creating a more flexible organization. “We are concerned because teachers have spent this year dealing with the aftermath of the building principal shuffle, which created wholesale disorientation of both staff and students,” Brock said. Best practices for effective learning demands consistency and stability for students, she added.
The BEA appreciates the generosity of Burlington voters, who have approved budgets presented them, but is concerned with the allocation of funds. Over a three-year period the district’s annual revenues rose by 7.74%, with voters approving an additional $6.1 million. Over that same period, spending on those who actually teach students has dropped by more than $1 million, from 41.4% of the budget in FY16 to 37.2% as proposed for FY18. “Direct services to students must be a priority in the district and it is our belief that the community has been more than willing to pay for such services,” Brock said.
The BEA recognizes that teacher compensation is controversial, but teachers fear that Burlington risks further erosion of the educational programming and services for students if the city fails to be competitive with other districts in the region. To achieve regional comparability, the teachers have offered a proposal that would have BSD faculty average fourth out of the eight Chittenden County school districts. The teachers’ proposal calls for a 5.74% increase for salaries. “It is a matter of investing in education that benefits students,” Brock said. “The district needs to reallocate funds after many years of deferred investment in the compensation of Burlington’s professional educators.”
Burlington’s diverse student population provides both richness and challenges, said Brock, yet the city’s schools have been losing excellent teachers to neighboring districts. “Failure to attract and retain the most gifted professionals who are trained and experienced in working with such a broad spectrum of needs denies students the education they need and deserve,” Brock said.
Health care costs are another controversial issue on the table. The School Board’s proposal follows the statewide agenda issued by the Vermont School Boards Association and seeks to substantially shift the cost of health care to the teachers. The District will save almost $2 million annually under the current health care proposal but plans to devote that savings to other district priorities. The BEA asserts that disproportionately shifting the cost of health care to teachers creates an unnecessary and unwarranted burden on teachers. Current health care benefits are equivalent or less than those offered by other major employers in Burlington. “A plan that denies Burlington's teachers access to health care on par with the working middle class will not attract and retain the best teachers to the profession or to the District,” Brock said. “Such a plan indicates that the Board is not making excellent education a priority.”
The teachers’ workday is also being negotiated. The Board has proposed a substantial reduction in the time set aside during school hours for teachers to prepare for classes and individual student needs. The Board argues that reduced teacher prep time would provide increased flexibility, but teachers argue that they will actually lose the flexible time needed to serve Vermont’s most diverse student population. “Student needs are met during teacher prep time,” Brock said. “It is during prep time when teachers can develop and engage in needed learning interventions; collaborate with colleagues; analyze student performance data; and create the flexible pathways for student learning as required by the state.”
The Board needs to “to work cooperatively and constructively toward a fair and respectful agreement with the professionals who provide direct-student programming and services to the children of Burlington,” Brock said. “We hope the Board avoids taking the same course it navigated last year, imposing a contract that neither meets student needs nor demonstrates collaboration with faculty to solve serious issues facing the district.”
Burlington Education Association negotiators press for agreement that attracts and retains the best for the city’s students
BURLINGTON -- The Burlington School Board directed its negotiators Thursday night to declare impasse in the contract negotiations with the Burlington Education Association. The Board’s action requires the board and association negotiators to agree upon a mediator or fact-finder and to set a schedule for continuing the collective bargaining process.
Burlington’s teachers are striving to settle a contract that insures the district attracts and retains quality teachers who can provide the city’s students with the quality education they deserve. The teachers hope that a respectful and fair contract can be hammered out without the Board again pushing the parties to the level of crisis experiences this past fall.
Unresolved issues include class size; educational and programming services for Burlington’s diverse student population; language regarding appropriate and equitable elementary school workplace matters; a compensation package that ensures Burlington will attract and retain quality teachers. “A teacher’s working condition is a child’s learning environment,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as BEA president.
Brock said the BEA is hopeful that the School Board will instruct their negotiators to continue working in good faith to resolve the differences. As of now, the BEA’s negotiation team of teachers has been met only with BSD lawyers – members of the board have not met with the association. “All of Burlington’s children not only deserve a quality education, but a rigorous, high-caliber education,” Brock said. “This is crucial if our students are to be prepared to move into the career or college of their choice.”
Greetings on this very snowy afternoon fellow members!
Let me share a few thoughts with you about Monday’s press release from the Burlington School Board about our contract negotiations. For starters, please be assured that despite the tone of the board’s release, our team and the board’s representatives are still at the table bargaining the terms of a contract. We are making progress. We haven’t yet declared impasse.
The board seems intent on picking a public fight over the issue of negotiating in public. Our association has bargained in open session in the past, and we have found from experience that it doesn’t make coming to a contract agreement any easier. In fact, your bargaining team has offered to bargain in public if the entire negotiation process – mediations, fact-finding, etc. – was open to the public. The current school board declined that offer. It is worth noting that the standing board has sent in three different attorneys to do its bargaining, but not a single elected commissioner has participated in negotiations. It is more than a tad ironic that board members want the public to attend negotiation sessions, but not one of the elected board members has yet to attend.
Rather than focus on this issue, we wish members of the board will commit to doing what it takes to avoid a repeat of our last round of negotiations. We have made it clear that we are working toward a contract that will attract and retain the best teachers for Burlington’s students.
Throwing unnecessary lobs – even while the parties make progress – does nothing for the students of Burlington. We urge the board to remain focused on reaching a fair settlement that does right by our students, our schools, the city and us, the professional teachers who are on the front lines directly serving the students.
Burlington's teachers took to the streets on our first float for Burlington's Mardi Gras. The message that we shared was the fact that Burlington's Schools Rock! We hope that everyone enjoyed their shirts. Thank you, Burlington residents, for all of the support that you give your teachers and your schools. Also, thank you to all of our teachers who helped build the float and braved the frigid temperatures to join the parade!
Members of the Burlington Education Association attended two lobbying sessions at the Vermont State House in Montpelier. Members were able to meet with members of the Vermont State Senate and House of Representatives in order to represent the perspective of Burlington's teachers. This is an opportunity for our state's teachers to share about the impacts that policies can have in the classroom.
The BEA, Rights & Democracy Vermont and the Peace and Justice Center hosted a forum with candidates for Burlington's City Council. We met with a lot of community members and were excited to be able to help provide this opportunity for Burlington's residents to learn about their candidates.
The Burlington Education Association and the Burlington School Board today exchanged initial contract proposals. The two negotiating teams will study the other’s proposal and will meet again within the next few weeks when the BEA hopes agreement can be reached on issues that directly affect the quality of education that Burlington citizens expect and deserve for the city’s children.
The BEA has proposed salary increases to help Burlington achieve regional competitiveness after several years of deferred investment to attract and retain the best faculty for Burlington’s children. The proposal sets out a reasonable and shared contribution for a healthcare plan. The teachers’ proposal also includes new language for elementary schools that would insure consistent, equitable distribution of resources according to student needs and best teaching practices. It is important to teachers that the city’s six elementary schools have staffing and scheduling that provide quality and equitable education for the city’s youngest students.
“The teachers’ proposal reflects that which is of highest priority to teachers, attracting and retaining the best teaching staff so our city’s school children get a rigorous, quality education that prepares all of our students for career or college,” said Fran Brock, president of the teachers’ association. “Burlington taxpayers have long been generous with their financial support of the schools,” said Brock, “and our proposal can be funded with appropriate distribution of district funds.”
The current contract states that if no agreement is reached by February 15, 2017, the negotiation teams may declare impasse. The teams currently are planning to meet multiple times between now and February 15. Brock said she hopes efforts to settle the contract will be more civil and constructive in order to avoid the discord experienced with the 2016-17 contract negotiations.
Good evening Commissioners:
As you know, I am president of the Burlington Education Association. I’m also a history teacher at BHS and a resident of Ward 5.
On behalf of the Burlington School District’s teachers and paraeducators, I hope that as you work toward the March vote on a proposed budget for 2017-18, problems that plagued the current year’s budget will be avoided. I hope that the strategic planning process underway is being driven by district goals that focus on comprehensive student-centered educational programming and services.The strategic plan needs to be grounded in the goal of providing ample opportunities for student success.
Specifically, I hope that your proposed budget will make clear the district’s educational objectives and will clearly identify through line-item accounting the specific expenditures needed to reach those goals. I also hope that all programs, people, and budget items can be defended as directly serving the educational needs of Burlington’s students.
Out of respect for Burlington taxpayers, it is more crucial than ever that allocations of funds -- proposed and actual spending of tax dollars -- must first and foremost go toward student-directed services.
In that vein, library/media center specialists must be restored at all schools. These teachers are not replaceable. These programs are not expendable. Library/media services provide crucial direct support for students and teachers. Those of us who work directly with students are feeling the hit; we are not able to provide the quality of education our community expects. Library/media centers are the heart and soul of a democratic society. As a district we need to take seriously our goal of providing equitable educational opportunities to all students.
Similarly, as we strive to insure that each and every student has access to educational support and programming that is appropriately challenging, your proposed budget needs to restore faculty and paraprofessionals who provide both remedial services and advance placement programming. We cannot afford to continue slashing programs for any student; to do so will continue to damage the education of all students.
Again, as you work toward developing a proposed budget for the March vote, I hope you will be honest and true to Burlington’s heritage of providing all necessary student-directed educational programs and services, staffed with licensed professionals. The goals that direct the budget must insure that all students have equal access to an education that will make reaching one’s full potential a reality for each student.
I wish you an enjoyable and safe December break and a happy new year.
Vote comes after union, board reached a tentative agreement that averted a strike
BURLINGTON – Burlington’s teachers today agreed to ratify the agreement reached last week with the school board that averted a strike and ensures a contract through August 2017.
“I am so proud of my fellow members,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association. “We showed that when we stand together, we can do great things. I am also pleased that we and the school board have reached a settlement that not only averted a strike, but also paved the way for all of us to work together on behalf of the city’s children.”
Details of the agreement – which replaces a set of employment policies imposed by the school board won’t be released until it is also ratified by the Burlington School Board.
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