New talks scheduled for Tuesday may end a teachers’ strike in Vermont's largest city, which has now entered its second school week. There will be no school in Burlington Tuesday while those negotiations take place.
The union representing 400 educators and other school personnel in Burlington will meet starting late Tuesday morning with the city school board and an experienced mediator to talk about their differences.
There has been no school in the city since the end of the day last Wednesday, because of a contract dispute largely over staffing levels and certain non-teaching duties like lunchroom and recess monitoring for elementary school teachers.
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The school board and superintendent have said experienced teachers are best able to detect problems during that unstructured time, but the union insists educators' time would be better spent prepping lesson plans or meeting one-on-one with kids in order to help improve student performance.
"We are fighting for the professional time we need to ensure the best education for the children of Burlington," Fran Brock, the president of the Burlington Education Association, told reporters Monday.
Both sides previously indicated they were close on pay and health benefits.
Brock acknowledged the strain the strike has put on the city's roughly 4,000 students and their parents, many of whom have had to scramble to find child care.
Still, the union pointed to a large rally Sunday in City Hall Park as evidence of how many people have the teachers' backs.
"It's been really very reassuring to us to know so much of the community is behind us," Brock said.
However, support is not universal.
Burlington resident Jeff Comstock, who has a sign reading "I support my school board" in his front yard, told necn he worries about long-term cost sustainability in the district.
Comstock also said he believes the school board has offered fair raises and has reasonable expectations on city teachers.
"I think the teachers should accept the offer as it is, and go back to work," Comstock told necn.
As renewed negotiations get underway Tuesday, the district is now calling for civility, after teachers have reported name-calling and other harassment on the picket lines from some members of the public.
The school district and school board condemned such actions, they said in a written statement Monday.
"Although there is a difference in negotiations, the Board and the District value and respect the right of the teachers to strike," Burlington Superintendent Yaw Obeng said in the statement. "There is no place for any type of bullying or harassment in our community."
The school district announced lunches will be available at J.J. Flynn Elementary School and Burlington High School Tuesday from 11 a.m – 12 p.m. for students that rely on that free service.
Additionally, on Tuesday, meals will be delivered to the following neighborhoods at these approximate times subject to change, according to the district:
- Franklin Square at 11:00 a.m.
- Riverside Apartments at 11:00 a.m.
- Roosevelt Park at 11:45 a.m.
- Salmon Run Apartments at 11:45 a.m.
- Bobbin Mill Apartments at 12:00 p.m.
- Lakeside at 12:15 p.m.
- South Meadow at 12:45 p.m.
The school district thanked the King Street Center, the Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department, the Burlington Housing Authority, and Champlain Housing Trust for collaborating on meal delivery Monday. The district said more than 150 meals were provided Monday to Burlington children.