BENNINGTON — All the boards of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union gathered for a carousel meeting on Monday to approve the negotiated contract with the school system's educational support personnel (ESP).
Negotiations between board members and the union had been ongoing since April, but the two sides found themselves far apart as they neared the June 30 deadline. The primary hang-up is expected to be healthcare, as was the case when the teachers negotiated their contract last year. The two sides agreed to a one-year contract extension, with the caveat that negotiations on the next, longer-term contract begin in August, so as to avoid a similar situation next June.
The term ESP covers all non-teaching personnel in the schools, including secretaries, paraeducators, etc.
"It's a one-year contract, with a 2 percent increase," said Superintendent Jim Culkeen. "The language remains the same, other than date changes."
He pointed out that the ESP and teacher contracts now both expire next June, and the health insurance changes will be negotiated at the same time.
"They went well," said Mount Anthony Union board member Leon Johnson on the meetings, which were held in open session at the Career Development Center, "We had well scheduled meeting dates, we put together what our desires were, they put together what their desires were, we exchanged them." He said that, with heath insurance benefits raising a red flag, both sides agreed to the extension. "We all agreed that health insurance will stay as it is," he said, "and a moderate salary increase of 2 percent is something we can all afford to have, and it shows our appreciation for the people that are doing the hard work for us."
The boards, including that of the Career Development Center, took time to discuss the contract, then approved it one-by-one. Pownal board member Jim O'Connor had some objections to the contract. "The household income in Vermont has not gone up for almost 10 years. If you take government employees out, it's actually gone down in the last seven or eight years. We're being asked tonight to vote for 2 percent, but no one else in Vermont has gotten 2 percent. We have Act 46, which we're all straining over, to save money, and we're giving away 2 percent." He said that with the increase in cost from the 2 percent raise, the SU could have hired another high level employee.
The first meeting of the next round of negotiations will be on August 10. This meeting was filmed by Catamount Access Television, and a recording is available on its YouTube page. Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.