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.”
The Burlington School Board of Commissioners and the Burlington Education Association moved slightly closer on key issues for a contract to replace the FY17 contract that expired August 31. The two sides met for more than 6 hours on Thursday with mediator Ira Lobel.
The BEA, which represents 400-plus teachers, is seeking working conditions that enable teachers at the elementary and high school to have planning time that is not encumbered with non-teaching responsibilities. The BEA offered to establish a collaborative study to identify ways to better close the achievement gap and serve the academic needs of high school students through possible changes to teaching and non-teaching assignments. But BEA President Fran Brock said “the teachers will not accept immediate schedule and assignment changes at the high school that would limit and control working time. It would only further erode student-directed services and programs.”
The schools have lost more than 100 teachers and seen heavy cuts to programs over the past three years. “The Board is getting bad advice from Administrative leadership, who do not seem to understand the best practices of teaching and learning.”
The Board’s proposal stymies full implementation of an elementary school scheduling plan that would give teacher necessary preparation time and reduce their time handling non-teaching duties. Administrators and teachers have spent the past three years designing and piloting the schedule, and the factfinder recommended it be implemented.
The teachers and board are less than 1% different on new money for salaries. Shared costs for healthcare insurance also is still unsettled. “We are concerned that again the School Board has been dismissive of the fact-finder’s recommendations,” Brock said.
The Burlington Board of School Commissioners and the Burlington Education Association Thursday made some progress in their negotiation of a new contract. The two sides moved a bit closer regarding compensation and working conditions for a proposed two-year contract. A mediation session is set for August 31.
Board members and BEA negotiators conferred directly about changing the assigned and unassigned time for high school teachers. “The discussion gave us a chance to explain why teachers need their preparation time, which was useful,” BEA President Fran Brock said.
The teams were able to agree on a number of contract issues, but are still significantly apart on salary, healthcare insurance and working conditions.
“We made progress,” Brock said, “although we still have some thorny matters to sort out.”
Teachers continue to be concerned that some of the Board’s proposals dealing with working conditions ignore the expertise and professionalism teachers bring to the schools. “Proposals that would take away unassigned time from teachers will curtail the ability of teachers to work with individual students; to collaborate on student-directed programming; and develop, implement and assess student-directed curriculum,” Brock said.
Special School Board Meeting:
Thursday, August 31, 8 PM
Edmunds Middle School Library,
275 Main Street
The Burlington School Board of Commissioners this week failed to reach a contract agreement with the women and men who teach the city’s children despite the recommendations of a mediator.
“We are disappointed that once again the board failed to truly negotiate with an aim toward reaching a settlement that allows Burlington to attract and retain the best for the city’s children,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as president of the Burlington Education Association. “We thought the mediator’s report gave us a framework for a settlement. Instead, the board’s negotiating team clearly was not interested in using the report to forge a deal.”
The report – which can now be shared with the public – made recommendations on salary increases, health insurance cost-sharing, and, changes to teachers’ workdays that would increase the amount of time they can devote to improving student performance. Interestingly, Superintendent Yaw Obeng is opposed to teachers’ using their unassigned time to prepare for lessons, provide learning interventions, and otherwise meet student needs.
According to the report, Obeng “readily confirmed that teachers used their unassigned time to attend to professional matters (and in his) view, that did not necessarily further the district’s educational goals and policies.” In other words, said Brock, “the Superintendent seems to be saying that having prepared, professional teachers somehow is contrary to the district’s goals.”
Brock said the fact-finding report issued by mediator Michael C. Ryan offers a path toward settlement that the board this week chose not to take. And while the association takes issue with some of the report’s recommendations – especially around health insurance – Brock said differences could be resolved.
The teachers’ contract expires August 31. A copy of the report can be found at www.beaworks.com
The Burlington Free Press recently ran an article highlighting our very own Shannon Walters, the Teacher-Librarian at BHS! Find out how librarians are becoming even more important in the 21st Century.
Thank you to all of the Teacher Librarians in Burlington who work every day to teach digital literacy, coding, and equip our students and teacher to navigate the 21st Century!
Let me note that the contracts, bargained in good faith between the School Board and teachers, and the School Board and the paraeducators, sitting as equals at the table, are the last defense that guarantees that the working environments for students are safe, and teachers have the time required to design, execute and assess student-centered educational programming. It is the contract with the paraeducators that ensures students receive the support they need to succeed. The contract, through the compensation package and working condition components, is indisputable proof that the Board wants to retain and attract the best faculty and paraeducators for the city’s students.
While there are some both locally and nationally who would vilify teachers and belittle education, we are not the enemy. We are the ones who work daily with Burlington’s students to make sure each student is challenged and learns the skills and knowledge needed to become a participatory member of the community. We are proud of our profession; we take pride in the work we do, knowing that we do not produce widgets but rather nurture young adults who have individual needs and dreams that can be realized. We also are your neighbors, friends, family, customers, taxpayers and voters. As teachers and paraeducators we take seriously our role as models for that desired community involvement.
On behalf of Burlington’s some 400 teachers and paraeducators represented here this evening, I extend congratulations to the graduating class of 2017. Some 250 Burlington students will accept their high school diplomas on Friday, in a commencement ceremony that acknowledges and celebrates the efforts of our students to prepare for the next step in their lives, be it career, military or college. Also on behalf of Burlington’s teachers and paraeducators, we look forward to welcoming the Class of 2030 when they begin Kindergarten and the start of their formal educational odyssey in the fall!
The Burlington Education Association and representatives from the Burlington School District met Wednesday with little success in the ongoing effort to secure a contractual agreement for the 2017-18 school year. Since no agreement was reached, the parties now move to the fact-finding process in the next two weeks. Both sides will present evidence to Michael Ryan, who also has served as mediator. He will issue a report which is not binding, but could present a path to a settlement.
The Wednesday meeting was the second mediation session held since the board declared impasse in March.
The BEA negotiating team continued to address the Association’s two main concerns in settling the contract. The teachers seek a contract that will offer a competitive compensation package that will attract and retain the best teachers for the city’s students. The teachers also contend the city’s voters approved a 7.74% increase or in excess of $6 million from FY16- FY18 yet not only has the number of teachers been reduced but the compensation of teachers in comparison to others in the region has gone down. The current Board proposal allocates less than 38 cents of each dollar in revenue to teacher salary and health benefits leaving teachers questioning the Board’s allocation of the revenues.
The BSD proposals want to shift the majority of healthcare costs to employees, and offer salary increases that do not recognize experience. The teachers are also concerned with proposed changes to working conditions that would limit time for direct-student academic services.
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.”