Support personnel ratify new contract

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BENNINGTON — Months after an agreement was reached in principle, Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union support staff have ratified a new two-year contract.

SVSU Superintendent Jim Culkeen was informed at about 4 p.m. on Wednesday that the contract had been ratified. It will now need to be ratified by each board of the SVSU, which Culkeen said would happen at their November meetings. Once the contract becomes official, staff will receive the retroactive pay to which they are entitled.

The Bennington School Board on Wednesday night became the first district to ratify the contract after their agenda was modified at the start of their meeting to include the item.

"It's been a long time coming," Culkeen said during the meeting. "There were some language hang-ups between the education support negotiators and our negotiating team, actually between Norm Bartlett of the NEA and (SVSU legal counsel) Dina Atwood, who is an attorney with Stitzel, Page, and Fletcher, particularly around language for bereavement time and a misunderstanding about what was agreed to."

Culkeen said that lawyers on both sides had needed to review minutes and video of the meetings in order to come to an agreement on specific language. The last two rounds of contract negotiations have been held in public and recorded by Catamount Access Television. Previously, they were held in executive session.

The ESP and teachers' contracts were negotiated in unison and an agreement was reached at the end of June, just before the previous contract expired. The teacher contract was ratified by all boards at a carousel meeting in August.

Health insurance was one of the most significant discussion topics throughout the negotiations, but the two sides were able to come to an agreement on an 86 percent to 14 percent cost split. Staff will pay the first 5 percent of out-of-pocket expenses and the schools will cover the next 80 percent, after which the staff will pay the remainder. Based on analysis of past usage, Atwood said during negotiations that roughly 50 percent of staff would end up reaching that final percentage. The new health insurance plans will go into effect Jan. 1.

The contract also stipulates that paraeducators will shift from being employees of the individual school districts to the SVSU. Atwood said that she did not believe that anyone would be changing buildings as part of that process.

"Bereavement time, which was the hold-up that I mentioned, was drawn in line with the teachers' contract," said Culkeen. "In the support staff contract it was five consecutive days for the death of an immediate family member. It's been changed to five work days rather than five calendar days. In [the case of] the death of a spouse, sibling, parent, child, that seems like what a benevolent employer should do."

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

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