Paraeducator shift unintentionally omitted from contract

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BENNINGTON — During the last round of contract negotiations, representatives of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and their educational support staff agreed to make paraeducators employees of the supervisory union, rather than of their individual school districts. However, months after the new contract was agreed to, the schools made a startling discovery: That clause never made it into the final contract that was ratified by the boards.

The changes would not have gone into effect until next July, so the SVSU has time to correct the error. The discovery was made as the SVSU budget for next year was being prepared and discussed, after Mount Anthony and Shaftsbury board member David Durfee brought up that he was unaware of such a change having been made.

According to the minutes from the negotiating session on May 23, the two sides agreed that "all paraprofessionals who are employees of a local district should become employees of the SVSU, and the procedure by which this should be done is to lay-off and then re-hire all of the employees on the same day." However, that language never made it into the final contract, nor into a contract summary that was distributed to board members before they voted to adopt the new contract.

"The negotiating team knew about this, for both labor and management," said SVSU Superintendent Jim Culkeen. "Whether that got back to all boards... (board members) got a summary sheet after we completed negotiations, and that was not there. In discussions with our attorney, the solution is this memorandum of agreement that both sides would sign, because the case could be made that it wasn't voted on. If (board members) were not aware that that was agreed upon in negotiations, then the package that (they) were voting on wasn't complete."

The memorandum will need to be approved by all boards of the SVSU. The Shaftsbury board approved it on Wednesday, while other boards have yet to consider it. The National Education Association that represents the employees will also need to sign off on the memorandum.

"It doesn't make much of a difference to us, from a management point of view," said Culkeen. "If they all become SU employees, the SU is just going to bill back (to the district boards) anyway, just like we do with special ed, so it'll be an internal transfer." He said that one of the benefits was that, in the event that a school no longer had a need for a paraeducator, if they were SU employees, rather than being laid off, a transfer could be made to a school in another district. The para would, in that situation, retain their seniority, rather than being moved to the bottom of the seniority list for what would have been a new employer.

Culkeen said that the mechanics of transferring staff still need to be worked out, but its likely it would be done through conversations between himself, the building principals, and the employees in question.

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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