Over 300 Burlington educators and community members lined the sides of Williston Road in South Burlington last Tuesday as part of an informative picket to drive the school board back to negotiations.
The teachers, who wore green shirts in solidarity, stood holding a sea of colorful, handmade signs outside Staples Plaza. Supporters played drums as union members waved at passing cars honking horns in support. The upbeat picketers began organizing at 4:30 p.m.
Teachers’ union President Fran Brock stood on a rock to address the crowd of community members.
“[The board is] trying to break up the union, and we’re not going to let them do that,” she said.
The demonstration is one of several organized by the Burlington Education Association (BEA), in response to a vote by the school board to impose a contract on Sept. 15. The board’s decision ended over a year of ongoing negotiations between the two parties.
The union’s crisis committee along with input from building representatives and BEA officers, decided to begin picketing, according to Brock.
“The picketing has really helped bring teachers together,” she said. “Teachers appreciate seeing the solidarity and support from their colleagues.”
Brock does not know the likelihood of the board reopening negotiations.
“Board members should listen to and respond to constituents who want a different outcome than imposition or strike,” she said.
The BEA formally rejected the imposed working conditions with a unanimous, and largely symbolic, vote on Sept. 20. In the weeks since, the union has held four informational pickets and has an additional demonstration planned for Oct. 5.
School Board Chair Mark Porter responded publicly on Sept. 21 by saying that the board had no plans to return to the table. Porter was not available for comment before the Register’s publication deadline.
Negotiation costs unveiled
The BHS Register obtained a copy of an itemized list of expenses for teacher contract negotiations through filing a public records request.
The district has spent a total of $88,863 on negotiations to date, according to the list provided by Business Manager Nathan Lavery. The breakdown includes $85,298 in legal fees, in addition to $3,565 in “economic and policy resources.”
District closer to producing line-item budget
The Register also requested a detailed, line-item budget for the 2017 fiscal year. In response, a 164-page document with the district account details for the current fiscal year was provided. The document contains hundreds of blanks and missing figures.
“Please note that the District is presently considering the creation of a new document that summarizes or more succinctly itemizes the information contained in the attached,” Lavery wrote in an email response to the request.
The Register reported on Sept. 23 that the district plans to release a detailed, line-item budget in the coming weeks, an item community members have been calling for amongst concern over lack of financial transparency. Board Member Liz Curry posted the announcement on Front Porch Forum.
The release could be a deal-breaker in determining whether the board considers reopening negotiations.
Back to the Table
In response to the pickets held by the BEA, the school board is now signaling that they are willing to resume negotiations. The board reached out to the union on Sept. 28 indicating their openness. The board continued to reiterate in a press release that all available funding has been allocated.
“The Board and the BEA share the goal of ensuring that teachers are compensated fairly and comparably with neighboring districts and both parties are also committed to making decisions that are in the best interest of Burlington’s children for this year and beyond,” stated Chair Mark Porter in the release. “The Board looks forward to building on these shared goals and finding common ground that will allow the Board, the Union, and our community to move forward.”
Brock expressed displeasure at the board’s decision to impose restrictions on future negotiations.
“We are pleased that the board indicated a willingness to resume talks with Burlington’s teachers. But it is quite unfortunate that they put conditions on those talks,” Brock said. “A negotiation with conditions is not a true negotiation.”