SVSU, teachers reach tentative contract agreement

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BENNINGTON — The Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and the teachers union have reached a tentative, one-year contract agreement that provides raises of 3.5%, inclusive of step increases.

The agreement, signed April 11, must now be ratified by the member boards of the SVSU and the members of the Southwest Vermont Education Association.

The pay increase includes step increases based on education and experience, said Michael Molloy, a teacher at Mount Anthony Union High School who acted as chief negotiator for the SWVEA, a branch of the Vermont-National Education Association.

The association represents teachers in the Mount Anthony Union district and five area elementary schools. The SVSU has about 325 teachers, the supervisory union's central office confirmed Monday.

"We're just going with what everybody is doing," Molloy said, clarifying that nearby districts are structuring their teacher pay increases similarly.

Every teacher in the SVSU would receive a raise under this agreement, he said.

"The big thing for us, which is one of the things that we're trying to do, is catch up [teacher pay] to the surrounding districts," he said.

The SVSU currently pays teachers less than nearby districts, he said. Increases under this agreement would make up that difference "a little bit," he said.

"For us to get 3.5 [percent] for this year, I think was good, and is going to bring us up a little bit closer," he said. "We're getting closer to the neighboring districts."

The contract is for one year because of a pending proposal that would go into effect in 2020 to negotiate healthcare for teachers at the state, rather than local, level, Molloy said. Both sides agreed to focus only on salary, he said.

The agreement contains no language changes, and the financial increase is within the amount budgeted, according to information provided by Derek Carson, public information coordinator for the SVSU, in an email.

The SVSU will not make any further comments or release any other details until the contract is finalized after April school vacation, Carson said in the email.

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This contract would start July 1; the current contract expires June 30. Negotiations began in December.

For the agreement to be ratified, the union must vote on it, and all school boards in the SVSU — with the exception of the North Bennington Graded School District board — have to accept it as well, Molloy said.

Molloy said he anticipates this agreement will be approved.

The school board negotiation team and the SVSU teacher negotiation team met in mediation to reach the agreement.

"To be honest, [mediation] sounds bad," Molloy said. "[But] it just speeds up the process. That's what it does."

When asked if there was any impasse in negotiations that required a meditator, Molloy said that wasn't the case. "No — just, `pick up the pace,'" he said. "What mediation does is — there's somebody who just goes back and forth between the rooms."

Molloy said he thinks the agreement is a good one.

"You want the agreement to feel good for both sides," he said. "You don't want to leave it feeling like you didn't get enough, or somebody feeling like they gave too much. I think it's a good agreement that both sides can kind of feel good about."

From where negotiations started, the increase is a compromise.

"I know we asked for more, and they wanted to give us less," Molloy said. "And in the end, we came kind of to the middle."

There were only about four or five negotiation sessions before the agreement was reached, Molloy said, much less than the most recent teacher contract negotiations.

Negotiations took months for the current, two-year teacher's contract, which was ratified in August 2017.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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