SVSU ESP and teachers to pursue joint health plan

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BENNINGTON >> Teachers with the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union have begun contract negotiations with the schools alongside the educational support personnel, with the goal of coming up with a unified solution on healthcare.

The educational support personnel (ESP) and teachers both agreed to short-term contracts that will expire at the end of next June, with the teachers signing a two-year contact in 2015 and the ESPs signing a one-year contract earlier this year. Under those contracts, health insurance was left untouched. However, that will not be an option moving forward, as the Vermont Education Health Initiative, which currently provides insurance to SVSU employees, will be rolling out a new set of Affordable Care Act compliant plans starting in July of 2017, and the groups wanted to see what those plans will look like, and how they would compare to plans offered through Vermont Health Connect, which was the option preferred by the school boards.

"We had a meeting this afternoon concerning the options that are available to us as far as health insurance," said Mount Anthony Union Board Chairman Tim Holbrook after Wednesday's teacher contract negotiation meeting. "People who were there, as well as others, firmly believe that we have to have a unified health insurance program for all the employees within the district, whether they be support personnel, teachers, or administrators."

The ESP negotiating teams met on Tuesday, but their meeting focused largely on determining which staff members would be let go in the event of a layoff. SVSU legal counsel Dina Atwood, of the firm Stitzel, Page, and Fletcher, said: "The proposal from the board is that employees that are deemed most qualified in their job classification based on past performance, evaluations, skills, and the special needs of the assignment shall be retained over employees. That concern is a student-centered concern from the board's perspective."

ESP counsel Norm Bartlett, of the National Education Association, asked which aspects of the current policy, which states layoffs be done in reverse order of seniority, aren't working. "If you have to have a layoff, you want to have it be orderly, and it can't be orderly unless it's objective," he said, "I know we all think we can do that (evaluate which employees are most qualified), but it's impossible. This is a school district where the majority of our employees are special education. They are all employed by the supervisory union. They are all in different buildings and a number of different facilities. They are evaluated by different people. It's very hard to be consistent. It's perfectly fine to eliminate non-performing employees through the just cause provision that we have, I've just found that it's a dilemma if you say, we have to remove an employee, you now have to prove which is the least qualified. As opposed to saying, all I have to establish is who is the least senior."

The two sides found some common ground in a system that was based in seniority, but would allow employees with specific skills that cannot be replaced by other employees to be passed over in the event of a layoff.

Negotiations on both contracts are open to the public, are broadcast on Catamount Access Television, and will continue through the coming months.

— Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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