Board preps for teacher negotiations

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Three Colchester School Board members attended a Vermont School Boards Association negotiations workshop Saturday in preparation for upcoming contract talks with the teachers union.

The association has offered spring and fall negotiation workshops for the past two years. Saturday marked the first time members have participated.

Board members Craig Kieny, Lincoln White and Curt Taylor, who make up the negotiating team, attended. Kieny and White represented the board in 2014 negotiations that led to the current three-year contract, which expires in June.

“Colchester has a really good school board with lots of experience,” said teacher Joe Cheney, president of the Colchester Education Association. “The CEA looks forward to negotiating a successor agreement to the current contract with the board that is both fair to the town and the teachers of Colchester.”

Saturday’s workshop took place with a backdrop of failing negotiations between the Burlington School Board and Burlington teachers. The Burlington School Board broke off negotiations two weeks ago and voted to impose a one-year employment contract. Teachers rejected the contract last week and asked to return to negotiations to prevent a “disruption to the school year,” a union press release said.

Kieny said the Colchester School Board is “paying close attention” to the stalemate in Burlington. Negotiations in neighboring districts affect one another, Vermont School Boards Association executive director Nicole Mace said.

If an independent fact finder is hired to help a board and union come to an agreement, it will consider contracts in neighboring districts as part of its recommendations, she said.

“A neutral third party typically looks at comparability patterns, and that usually falls within a county, so the settlements that occur in one community absolutely affect others,” Mace said.

School board consultant Joe Blanchette led Saturday’s workshop. A retired science teacher at Champlain Valley Union High School and former union negotiator, Blanchette was once the benefits coordinator for the state’s teachers union.

On Saturday, Blanchette helped board members understand the nature of the teachers union.

“School boards are made up of lay people without a background in union negotiations. They approach it as sitting down with their teachers, and they are, but the teachers are wearing their union hats, and it’s important to understand what that means so that they come to the table prepared,” Mace said.

Kieny said the workshop was very helpful.

Negotiations are expected to begin in November. Board and teacher negotiators will decide during the first meeting whether sessions will be open to the public. Contract talks were held in open session for the first time during the last round of negotiations in 2014.