WNESU contract talks to resume

The lead negotiator for the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union announced Wednesday evening that a tentative contract has been reached with its support staff for a four-year deal.

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WESTMINSTER — The lead negotiator for the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union announced Wednesday evening that a tentative contract has been reached with its support staff for a four-year deal.

Westminster School Board Chairwoman Cheryl Charles told the four-town School Board that negotiations earlier in the day had been successful.

Charles said the length of the contract was particularly welcome — four years — since it means that the support staff and the teachers’ contracts won’t be up at the same time.

Earlier this year, the supervisory union reached an agreement with the teachers who are members of the Windham Northeast Education Association, after more than 18 months of talks that included an unfair labor charge filed with the Vermont Labor Relations Board. An agreement with the teachers was only reached after mediation.

“We reached an agreement today,” Charles said, referring to support staff. The final document is being reviewed, since, as she put it, “there are a lot of moving parts.”

Kate Kane, who was the lead negotiator for the support staff along with several other people, said the support staff would be voting on the tentative contract Thursday afternoon.

“The WNEA negotiating team has reached a tentative settlement with the WNESU School Board team for a four-year support staff contract. This contract covers paraprofessionals, secretaries, custodians, certified occupational assistants, and speech and language pathology assistants. Support staff will be voting this afternoon to ratify the agreement,” Kane wrote in an email Thursday afternoon.

Charles said once the contract language is finalized, it will go to the union and the individual boards — Rockingham, Westminster, Grafton-Athens, Bellows Falls Union High School and the supervisory union. The supervisory union employs many of the support staff.

Grafton School Director Jack Bryar, who is chairman of the supervisory board, said he is thrilled with the four-year deal that will get the contract “off the same cycle as the teachers.”

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“Years of unnecessary confrontation” will now be avoided, he said. In the past, he said, “it had been an incredibly contentious” negotiations, as the teachers insisted on negotiating their contract first. Bryar was a member of the supervisory union’s negotiation team.

Rockingham School Director Priscilla Lambert praised Charles’ work in leading the negotiations, and doing what she called an incredible amount of preparation and research for the board.

Lambert said Charles should be applauded for her work.

Charles said that in addition to Lambert and Bryar, the negotiation committee included Bellows Falls Union High School board members Deborah Wright of Rockingham and June Streeter of Westminster. Charles, Lambert and Bryar are all chairs of their respective local boards.

Wright said that until the contract is ratified, its conditions are confidential, but she said she is glad the agreement has been reached quickly.

Wright said the contract runs from 2021 through the 2024-25 school year.

“The support staff is pleased we treated them with respect and appreciated their work. Other years, support staff has been given short shrift,” she said, and their concerns came at the end of the negotiation cycle.

This April, the teachers who belong to the Windham Education Association signed a new three-year contract that included 2.5 percent wage increases for each year of the contract, plus additional step increases for those who are eligible.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.