Local teachers reject Scott health care plan

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BENNINGTON — Approximately 65 people protested for an hour at the Four Corners in Bennington as part of statewide protests against Gov. Phil Scott's budget veto.

The protests were part of over 20 similar events held across the state by a coalition made up of the Vermont Democratic Party, the Vermont AFL-CIO, the Vermont branch of the National Education Association, Vermont Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club's Vermont chapter, the Vermont Worker's Center, the Vermont Main Street Alliance, and Rights and Democracy Vermont.

In his veto message released on Tuesday, Scott said he rejected the budget because lawmakers failed to pass his proposal to save $26 million on teacher health care by negotiating a statewide contract. Currently, health care is addressed in the contracts negotiated between faculty and staff and the supervisory union.

The protesters, many of whom were educators from the local schools, held signs urging Scott to leave health care negotiations in the hands of local teachers and boards. "I support local control, do you?" read one sign. "We know how to bargain locally! Let us decide!" read another. A third called on Scott to, "Stop playing politics with our health care!"

Among the protestors were Chris Murphy, chairman of the Bennington School Board, and Alice Miller, state representative and retired educator and member of the House Education Committee.

The opportunity for savings on teacher health care, said Scott's office in a release on Monday, comes from the new, lower-cost plans released by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. He has referred to the savings as a "once in a life-time savings opportunity." The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, along with many other supervisory unions around the state, is currently in negotiations with its teachers and education support personnel on new contracts. The old contracts were scheduled to expire to line up with when the new VEHI plans would be available.

"If the veto is sustained," said Scott, "I'm confident we can come to an agreement that ensures Vermonters benefit from this unique savings opportunity, and when we do, these bills will be improved, we will be more fiscally secure, and Vermonters will be better for it."

The Vermont NEA has been critical of Scott's position on teacher health care, with Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen likening the governor to a "a D.C.-style political operative," on Tuesday.

"We're here today to tell the governor that his D.C.-style response to not being able to complete his attack on educators is dangerous to all Vermonters, not just educators and students," she said during a press conference on Tuesday, flanked by three other former and current educators, "If the government shuts down, vital services for all of us will be in jeopardy. We understand that the governor doesn't like it when he doesn't get his way, but what we can't understand is his impulse to take the state's budget down with him. Our position on his plan to take away our right to work directly with our local school boards

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB


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