BELLOWS FALLS -- The Windham Northeast Supervisory Union's school directors will pick up on Wednesday, Jan. 29 where they left off in negotiations with the local teachers' union before the talks took a hiatus so a fact-finding report could be produced by a neutral third party.
Susan R. Brown produced a 50-plus page report, which was e-mailed to the Reformer, for both parties in order to suggest a course of action. Brown wrote that she has addressed all proposals in a manner she trusts will assist the parties "to craft a new contract at the soonest possible date and thereby avoid the sometimes severe consequences of operating without a contract or with an imposed one."
Brown tackled issues such as discipline suspension, teacher employment and compensation, professional improvement and temporary leaves of absence.
Erica Moody, the co-president and spokeswoman for the teachers' union (the Windham Northeast Education Association) said the union has no comment for the Reformer at this time. Stephen L. Fine, chairman of the WNESU boards' negotiating committee, told the Reformer a fact-finder is "a private citizen who does arbitration and fact-finding professionally."
"She comes in, she listens to both sides and she decides what we should do," he said.
Fine said the teachers' union's negotiating committee will meet with the negotiating committee of the WNESU boards, and Brown's report could be basis for continuing negotiations, though he is not sure that will be the case.
"You have to keep in mind that the fact-finder is something that is required by the (Vermont) Legislature, in their infinite wisdom," he said sarcastically. "If it wasn't for that, the boards wouldn't bother with it."
WNESU Superintendent Chris Kibbe told the Reformer contract negotiations had been going on for about a year and half before they stopped in the fall of 2012 for the fact-finding process.
The two negotiating committees had butted heads in a highly publicized dispute in the early part of 2012, when the parties hit a roadblock in negotiations due to the issue of arbitration, or the process in which both sides submit their differences to the judgment of a neutral person or group. The educators maintained arbitration is the cheapest way to settle disagreement in a fair and impartial manner, though Fine and the WNESU boards' negotiating committee disagreed. A teachers strike looked inevitable but the two parties came to terms on a new multi-year contract in April 2012, after more than a year of negotiating.
When asked if this round of talks would be reminiscent of the 2012 squabble, Fine replied, "If the teachers' union is going to persist in its claim for over 5 percent raises each year, than the answer is, 'Yes.' I guess we'll have to wait to see what happens on the 29th."
Fine said the union proposed to Brown that they get 3 percent raises each year, plus steps, which are worth about a 2.5 percent increase each. A step is an educator's movement along a set salary schedule. First-year teachers start off at Step 4 and the system goes up to about Step 17.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.