BENNINGTON — Representatives of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board and education support personnel (ESP) representatives agreed to pursue a one-year extension to the current contract, pushing back the deadline for holding difficult conversations, primarily regarding health insurance.
The two sides had submitted proposals to each other electronically, and this was the first time they had met publicly after reviewing those proposals.
"We're almost at June 1 for a contract that's supposed to expire on June 30," said Norm Bartlett, a representative of the National Education Association who is serving as the ESP's legal counsel for the negotiations, at the contract negotiations last Thursday, "and we know that, coming up in the very near future, we have this dilemma of health insurance. We're willing to discuss an extension of the current contract for a year."
He proposed that health insurance, which both sides expect to be the largest point of contention, as it was for the teacher contract negotiations last year, remain the same as it is now for that year. The staff would be expected to receive raises under his proposal. He said this would allow the two sides to take more time to discuss the substantive issues that they both see before them.
SVSU legal counsel Dina Atwood, of the firm Stitzel, Page, and Fletcher, said the board would be willing to discuss a one-year extension, but she requested that, should the contract be extended for a year, that the next negotiations should begin earlier than they did this year. Bartlett agreed with that point. "We have no problem with an earlier start for the next negotiations," he said, "In fact, we want to continue along, because we think these next negotiations are going to be difficult, because we're going to start talking about this health insurance issue."
He suggested the summer, or September at the latest, should be when the negotiations continue, if a one-year agreement is reached.
Bartlett wanted to end the day's conversation there, and continue discussion on a one-year contract at the next scheduled negotiating session, June 13. However, SVSU representative Leon Johnson asked to hear the union's stance on several aspects of the board's proposal.
"I want to make sure we have at least a basic understanding of the proposals that were sent," Johnson said, "Some of these things are representative of the board's desires going forward, whether we do them now or later."
Bartlett said his team had issues with several proposed clauses, including one that would require convicted child molesters to self-report to the school system (which he said was unenforceable, and not suitable for a collective bargaining agreement), and changes to how seniority affects the order in which staff members would be laid off, but he said substantive conversations on those subjects could be put on hold. "I'm assuming your proposals are serious proposals and won't go away, and neither will ours," he said, "They'll still be there. All we're doing is delaying a little bit, due to the lateness of our start."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.