ROCKINGHAM - Three and a half months after reaching a tentative agreement with the local teachers' union, the chairman of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union School Boards' Negotiating Committee says the educators now want to make changes that have not been agreed upon.
Stephen L. Fine said members of the Windham Northeast Education Association have waited since early May to request some edits to the tentative agreement made in April.
According to an e-mail sent from Vermont National Education Association field representative Norman Bartlett to School Superintendent Chris Kibbe earlier in the week, desired adjustments include changes to language pertaining to professional development and time allotted for filing a grievance, as well as general overall wording.
"Frankly, I find it outrageous, both that the union sat on the document for so long, saying nothing, and that it now comes forward, at virtually the very last minute, looking for changes in its bargained position," Fine wrote in an e-mail to the vReformer.
He was referring to a deadline of Monday, Aug. 6, that must be met in order for the first new paychecks to be issued on Sunday, Aug. 26. Fine said all individual teacher contracts must be signed and all other preliminary bookkeeping matters need to be completed.
The negotiating committee's main problem, Fine said, is that the union waited nearly three months to voice its problems.
"I have no idea, at the
"And we certainly are not going to implement any part of a new contract until it is clear that the entire contract has been agreed to, and properly executed, by the union," he continued.
The WNESU encompasses Bellows Falls Union High School, Bellows Falls Middle School, Central Elementary, Saxtons River Elementary, Westminster Center School, Westminster West Elementary and Grafton Elementary.
Fine said the boards want to implement the raises but the union's delay has prevented it from happening. He said having to renegotiate will just take even more time away.
He said on Friday his reaction to the situation "might have been different" if the union had requested the changes soon after the tentative agreement was made.
Darren Allen, the communications director for Vermont NEA, was initially unaware of Fine's dissatisfaction on Friday. When informed of the chairman's unhappiness, Allen said changes to language are requested every time there is a contract agreement.
He said no new demands are being made and referred to trying to pull a fast one on the negotiating committee as "something we would never do."
"This is just the i-dotting and the t-crossing," he said. "We're a little bit upset, but not surprised, that Mr. Fine is making much ado about nothing."
This is just the latest chapter in a continuing saga between the teachers' union and the negotiating committee. The two sides remained deadlocked in contract negotiations for more than a year. The hot-button issue was that of arbitration, a process in which disputing parties agree to submit their differences to the judgment of a neutral person or group.
The educators insisted that arbitration, which is a part of every teacher contract in Vermont, is the cheapest way to settle a dispute in a fair and impartial manner. But Fine, an attorney by trade, maintained that this notion is untrue. He said arbitration is actually more costly than going before a judge because lawyers and arbitrators must be paid and it takes "a lot longer than the teachers seem to think."
The area's teachers and paraprofessionals voted overwhelmingly at a meeting in late March to strike if a deal was not reached the following week. The two parties then came to tentative terms on a new multi-year contract and a work stoppage was avoided.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.