My name is Fran Brock, and I teach history at Burlington High School. I am also the president of the Burlington Education Association, the union that 400 of my colleagues and I proudly belong to.
This afternoon, we voted to authorize our negotiating team to call a strike no earlier than October 20 if a negotiated settlement is not reached during our session with a mediator.
We did not ever think it would come to this, but the leadership of this board has decided that division, political gamesmanship, and walking away and imposing employment conditions was a better course than settling during more than a year of talks.
Teachers take this action with thoughtfulness and sadness. We are acutely aware that a strike is disruptive for students, families, and for the community. But we can no longer stand by and allow the School Board to continue to demean us, to disrespect us, to devalue us and the teaching profession.
When the School Board chose to impose working conditions in September, they exercised a level of autocratic power that was unnecessary and dangerous. An important principle is at stake: we cannot stand by and allow the Board to set a precedent that could adversely affect future negotiations in Burlington and throughout the state. We can no longer sit still and let the Board make a mockery of the collective bargaining process. Such leadership is an affront to teachers and to the citizens of Burlington, and it is an unwelcome and unnecessary intrusion on what we are all about: the city’s students. This city’s students deserve so much better. They deserve leadership that is respectful and is driven by a desire to settle rather than driven by a desire to flex muscle and bully.
We have tried diligently over the past year to settle this one-year contract, viewing a strike as a last resort. Unfortunately, the Board of School Commissioners chose to impose working conditions as soon as they were legally allowed to do so, forcing us to consider our option of a strike. We have run out of alternative paths. We cannot let this go any further. Prolonging this unresolved matter will be more harmful in the long run for the education of Burlington’s students.
There is a chance to avoid this strike, and it will require the board’s negotiating team to approach our scheduled mediation next week with a singular desire: obtaining a negotiated contract settlement. I pledge that our team, as it always has, is willing and ready to roll up their sleeves and stay at the table as long as meaningful bargaining takes place.
Make no mistake, however: if no settlement is reached on the 19th, then our team will call a strike.
We sincerely thank the community for trying to convince the School Board to come back to the table. We thank Ira Lobel, the mediator, for calling us both back to the table.
We so appreciate the time and energy community members, particularly PTO groups, have dedicated to end this crisis. We hope that the Board’s leadership has heard their pleas, and expect to approach next week’s talks with an eye squarely on reaching a contract agreement with us.
Again, a strike is a last resort when a School Board opts to impose working conditions, which should be used only as a last resort for a school board. We will not let the imposition stand. We cannot let the three-plus years of the board beating down the teachers by the constant cutting of direct student services to continue.
We hope the board knows that it is up to them to come back to the table with us as equals, and that it truly wants to reach a settlement on this year’s contract. We pledge to bring the same zeal for a settlement. But should the board fail to reach a settlement, we will exercise our last resort.
We are the educators of Burlington, Vermont. We strive daily to build the schools that Burlington's kids deserve.