The Burlington School Board of Commissioners again, for the second year in a row, has walked away from the bargaining table minutes after the contract expired and imposed working conditions on the city’s 400-plus teachers. They are only the seventh school board in the state to take this course of action more than once.
The Burlington Education Association has scheduled a membership meeting for September 7 to consider its options.
“Just as we said last year, we will not accept imposition,” said BEA President Fran Brock. “It is demeaning and disrespectful. It represents a dereliction of duty by the School Board and a failure of the administration to constructively advise the board on how district funds can be allocated to support instruction and student-directed programming.”
Over the past three years, the district has cut student support educational programs and has seen an exodus of more than 100 faculty. There has been no secret that board members have endorsed, if not encouraged what Superintendent Obeng called “staff cleansing,” Brock said.
The Board and teachers were less than 1% apart on salary; and teachers agreed to accept close to what the fact-finder and Governor Phil Scott sought for health insurance contributions on the premium, and an out-of-pocket plan that would share costs. “Burlington’s voters have given the district the money; the board does not want to spend it in a way that will service the education of students, and enable the district to attract and retrain quality teachers,” Brock said.
Teacher compensation as a portion of the district’s general fund budget has fallen from 48.13% in FY16, to a proposed 44.132% of the FY18 budget while voters have approved a 7.74% budget increase over the same period, according to the BEA.
The Board’s imposed working conditions offer little recognition of the interpersonal contact needed between teachers and students. “Assessing everything in terms of dollars and cents per minute ignores the very practical human needs of students, which vary within and between the elementary, middle and high school levels,” Brock said. The imposition blocks implementation of an elementary school scheduling plan that would give teachers more preparation time. Administrators and teachers have spent the past three years designing and piloting the schedule, and the factfinder recommended it be implemented.
The imposition also enables the middle and high school administrators to take unassigned planning time away from teachers – a move that hurts students. “The Board’s action to limit and control working time will further erode student-directed programming and services,” Brock said. “The Board is getting bad advice from Administrative leadership, who do not seem to understand the best practices of teaching and learning,” she said.
“The teachers have sought a contract that would allow us to better meet the needs of students,” Brock said. “Sadly, the board – and the administration – are doing the opposite of what is needed to attract and retain the best for the city’s students. We cannot accept either a contract or imposition that is dictatorial and opens the gates for arbitrary and capricious actions that will hurt the educational opportunities for Burlington’s children. Such an action only demonstrates that the Board and Administration wants to play political power games with the education of Burlington’s children.”