March 13, 2019

Senate Gives Preliminary Approval of Bill to Regulate Entities That Handle Health Insurance Payments

Measure would make so-called third-party administrators accountable to Vermonters, employers, and regulators

MONTPELIER – The Senate today gave preliminary approval of a measure that would for the first time regulate so-called third-party administrators, the firms that handle Vermonters’ health reimbursement arrangements, health spending accounts and flexible spending accounts.

The measure, supported by Vermont-NEA as well as the administration of Gov. Phil Scott, emerged a year after thousands of educators’ medical claims and spending accounts were mishandled in the wake of new health insurance plans that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. 

Many of those educators are still sifting through the chaos wrought by the failure of third-party administrators to properly process claims and reimbursements. Many educators and their families avoided medical procedures, left prescriptions unfilled, and were refused care because of unpaid bills. Some were also threatened with collection agencies because of the unpaid bills.

“We are grateful for today’s vote,” said Don Tinney, a high school English teacher who serves as president of Vermont-NEA. “If enacted into law, this measure will go a long way to preventing a repeat of what happened to our members and their families as well as give aggrieved Vermonters a place to go for complaints and relief.”

Late last year, 30 local education associations sued one such third-party administrator, Future Planning Associates. The suit alleges that Future Planning committed consumer fraud and breach of contract. The firm handled health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts, and health reimbursement arrangements for more than 70 percent of school districts before abruptly pulling out of the business months later.

The bi-partisan bill, originally introduced by Senators Christopher Bray, Becca Balint, Phil Baruth, Joe Benning, Brian Campion, and Debbie Ingram, would call for the Department of Financial Regulation to develop regulations for third-party administrators by Sept. 1, 2020 that would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

Those companies administer millions of dollars belonging to Vermonters and their employers. Without regulation, Vermont consumers, employers, and the state have no recourse to ensure that these firms administer benefits properly.

“Working with educators, lawmakers, and the administration, we are hopeful that this measure continues to have widespread support,” Tinney said. “No Vermonter should ever have to experience the frustration, confusion, and havoc that thousands of my fellow members suffered through in the last year.”

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October 8, 2018

Caledonia Cooperative Educators Vote ‘No Confidence’ in District Superintendent

Union will urge the district’s board to not  renew contract of Superintendent Mathew Forest

DANVILLE – The members of the Caledonia Cooperative Education Association today voted no confidence in their superintendent after years of Mathew Forest’s mismanagement of Caledonia Cooperative Supervisory Union schools.

“It gives me no sense of pleasure that we are here tonight. But after years of trying to work with our boards and administrators to address the culture of fear, intimidation, and mismanagement by our superintendent, we have just taken a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Mathew Forest,” said Bill Douglas, a special education paraeducator at Peacham School who serves as the union’s spokesman. “In light of our lack of confidence in Mathew Forest, we will urge the CCSU board to not renew his contract. Our students deserve schools where everyone – from students to teachers to paraeducators to principals to parents – can teach, learn, and interact with respect, free from fear and intimidation. Our students deserve better than this. They deserve more from their superintendent.”

The vote comes after years of widespread dissatisfaction with Forest’s job performance. Two years ago, the union conducted a survey that found a majority of educators disapproved of Forest. The union took its concerns, quietly, to the board and administrators. Yet instead of working to improve, Forest continued to foster a culture of mismanagement, distrust, intimidation and fear, according to the union.

Last month, educators released the results of another survey that found fewer than 20 percent of educators approved of Forest’s performance. The release of that information prompted the Burlington attorney representing Forest and the district to threaten the jobs of union members who released the survey. The union subsequently filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district, alleging multiple violations of Vermont labor law.

“We think it is past time to have new leadership in this district,” Douglas said. “And that’s why today we are calling on the boards of this district to do the right thing and part ways with Mathew Forest so that we can rebuild the trust and improve our schools for the communities’ children.”

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September 26, 2018

Caledonia Cooperative SU Superintendent Violated Labor Law With Threats of Teacher Termination

In unfair labor charge filed today, Caledonia Cooperative Education Association asks Vermont Labor Relations Board to Order an end to Superintendent’s Intimidation

MONTPELIER – The Caledonia Cooperative Supervisory Union’s superintendent violated Vermont labor law when the district’s lawyer threatened to fire union educators who released the results of a survey showing a climate of intimidation, according to a charge filed today with the Vermont Labor Relations Board.

The filing comes less than two weeks after the district’s attorney sent an email to Vermont-NEA’s general counsel asserting that the district might fire members of the Caledonia Cooperative Education Association for breaching “a duty of loyalty” by distributing the survey results, which showed widespread dissatisfaction with Superintendent Mathew Forest.

“That the district would threaten to fire educators for releasing information to the public about a climate of distrust, mismanagement, and intimidation proves the point that Dr. Forest would rather fight against than work with educators to make the schools better,” the union said after the threats were made.

In today’s filing, the union asserted that Dr. Forest and the district’s attorney committed six unfair labor practices, including interfering, restraining and coercing employees from engaging in union activities by threatening to terminate employees for issuing a press release about their survey results; interfering, restraining and coercing employees from engaging in union activities by threatening to retaliate against union members; and discriminating against employees for engaging in protected union activities. The district also violated labor law by refusing to provide mailing addresses for the elected school board members. (You can read the complete labor board filing here.)

The union asks the labor board for “an order directing the (district) to cease and desist from violating Vermont’s labor laws, including an order directing Superintendent Mathew Forest to cease and desist from intimidating, threatening, and retaliating against employees; and another order directing Superintendent Forest to cease and desist from creating a climate of coercion which has caused fear and anxiety among the employees and worked to chill protected activity.”

Frustration with Dr. Forest has been growing for years, according to the survey and to educators – current and former – who work in the district’s schools. Indeed, the survey included comments from educators expressing their fear of Dr. Forest. One educator said in the survey, “Dr. Forest does not model the effective practices he preaches. He has created a toxic environment.” Another educator wrote, “He has created an unsafe and unhealthy working environment.” And another said, “The fact that people warn each other when he comes in makes me feel nervous and sad.”

The survey showed that 60 percent of respondents said they disapproved of Dr. Forest’s performance, while only 19 percent approved; 21 percent expressed no opinion.

After the results of the survey were released to the press, the district’s lawyer wrote an email to Vermont-NEA’s top lawyer.

“Before advising my client concerning whether there is a right to terminate the responsible employees, I thought it would be helpful to further understand [the union’s] legal position on the issue,” Burlington lawyer Pietro Lynn wrote. “I worry that this kind of behavior will prove counterproductive for your members.” He claimed that releasing the survey “appears to be a breach of the employees’ duty of loyalty to the employer.”

“Threatening us with termination because we pointed out that Dr. Forest creates a climate of intimidation proves the point: he prefers intimidation over cooperation,” said Bill Douglas, a special education paraeducator at the Peacham School who serves as the union’s spokesman. “We’ve tried to work this out directly with him, to no avail. We’ve brought our concerns to the board, and still his bullying and intimidation continues. We want the community to know that such a culture is not good for our students.”

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September 20, 2018

Caledonia Cooperative District Lawyer Threatens to Fire Teachers for Revealing Dissatisfaction with Superintendent

Board’s attorney claims telling public of years-long climate of distrust, mismanagement and intimidation is ‘breach of loyalty’

DANVILLE – The lawyer for the Caledonia Cooperative Supervisory Union threatened to fire teachers who last week released the results of a district-wide survey expressing dissatisfaction with Superintendent Matthew Forest.

“Before advising my client concerning whether there is a right to terminate the responsible employees, I thought it would be helpful to further understand [the union’s] legal position on the issue,” Burlington lawyer Pietro Lynn wrote in an email to Vermont-NEA’s general counsel. “I worry that this kind of behavior will prove counterproductive for your members.” He claimed that releasing the survey “appears to be a breach of the employees’ duty of loyalty to the employer.”

That the district would threaten to fire educators for releasing information to the public about a climate of distrust, mismanagement, and intimidation proves the point that Dr. Forest would rather fight against than work with educators to make the schools better, according to the Caledonia Cooperative Education Association.

“Last week, we told the public about what is going on in their schools,” said Bill Douglas, a special education paraeducator at Peacham School who serves as the spokesman for the union. “And, again, Dr. Forest does what he always does: tries to intimidate and bully the women and men who work with our students every single day.”

In a survey conducted by the union, 60 percent of respondents said they disapproved of Dr. Forest’s performance, while only 19 percent approved; 21 percent expressed no opinion.

“We will not be bowed in our desire to make our schools the best they can be,” Douglas said. “Even in the face of more threats, we will continue to do what we always do: put our students first and work hard to improve teaching and learning conditions. Too bad Dr. Forest continues to refuse to join us in that endeavor.”

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August 28, 2018

State’s Largest Union Recommends Hallquist for Governor

Vermont-NEA Board Affirms Candidate’s Support for Schools, Communities, Students

MONTPELIER – The board of the state’s largest union voted unanimously to recommend Christine Hallquist for governor, saying she will forge a better path for schools, communities, and children.

“Listening to Christine, it is clear that she has a vision for a civilized Vermont,” said Don Tinney, a high school English teacher who serves as president of Vermont-NEA. “It’s a vision where we adequately fund our public schools; where we provide opportunities for all Vermonters; and where we focus on lifting up all Vermonters, no matter where they live.”

Vermont-NEA is the first union to throw its support behind Hallquist.

Hallquist, who addressed the board over the weekend, talked about her commitment to making the way we fund public education fairer, and endorsed the notion of moving from a residential property tax to an income-based education funding formula that ensures that we fund our schools based on Vermonters' ability to pay. She also told the board of her focus on rural communities, on increasing the availability of broadband services, and on ensuring that Vermonters on the bottom of the economic ladder are given opportunities to thrive.

"The Vermont that I know and love supports its teachers, students, and families. I know how important it is that we take pride in supporting our schools and that we ensure all Vermonters have access to a living wage, health care, and the services needed to support their families. As a parent of three wonderful children who were educated by Vermont's amazing public-school system, the support of Vermont-NEA is especially important to me and I look forward to working with other parents, teachers, school boards, and community members as Governor," said Hallquist.

Tinney said he looked forward to a governor who looks at public education as crucial, and not just as a place to slash programs and layoff thousands of educators. “We need to do right by our kids, our schools, and our communities,” Tinney said. “Christine will be a governor who will do just that.”

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July 2, 2018

Vermont Educators Stand In Solidarity With UVM Nurses

Vermont-NEA urges hospital, whose CEO earns nearly $2.2 million a year, to reach fair settlement with women and men who are on the front lines of patient care

MONTPELIER – The women and men who spend their days teaching Vermont’s children stand in solidarity with their sisters and brothers who put patient care first every day at UVM Medical Center.

The following statement can be attributed to Don Tinney, a high school English teacher who became Vermont-NEA president yesterday:

“For months, the women and men who are the first line of care for patients at Vermont’s largest hospital have been trying to reach an agreement that will stem the high turnover and staffing shortages brought about by years of non-competitive pay. At a time when the hospital’s CEO earns nearly $2.2 million a year, it is disgraceful that the members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals aren’t even paid the same as others within the UVM Health Network.

“While we hope that the hospital will take today’s strike notice seriously enough to reach a fair settlement with their hard-working nurses and health professionals, make no mistake: we will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our sisters and brothers if they must walk the picket lines.

“Like educators, nurses and health professionals put others first every day. We implore the hospital’s management to do right by them and work with them to make UVM Medical Center a better place to work.”

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April 9, 2018

Vermont-NEA Proposes Statewide Commission in Push to Repair Broken Public School Employee Health Insurance System

Delegates to union’s annual meeting unanimously approved new path forward

MONTPELIER – The state’s largest union is pushing for the creation of a statewide health care commission to design and administer health benefits for all of Vermont’s public school employees.

After a unanimous vote by delegates to Vermont-NEA’s annual meeting over the weekend, the union is advocating for a return of equity, predictability, affordability, and transparency in the health insurance covering nearly 40,000 Vermonters.

“Vermont-NEA’s members and their families must no longer be denied an equal voice in the determination of benefits so vital to their welfare and economic security as health insurance, including, critically, the matter of plan design and cost-sharing,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as president of the 14,000-member union. “Nor can we accept any longer the widespread and harmful disparities in health insurance coverage and costs among public school employees.”

Since 2015, Vermont-NEA members have been afforded a minority – now a single seat – on the board of the Vermont Education Health Initiative board of directors, leaving the once consensus-driven entity now completely employer-dominated. Vermont-NEA wants an equal voice at the health insurance table, in part to ensure that this year’s chaos with the implementation of new plans is avoided in the future.

Coupled with last year’s proposal by the Vermont School Boards Association and Gov. Phil Scott to strip local school boards of their ability to negotiate directly with their local educators over health insurance, Vermont-NEA has taken this step to give school employees a greater voice in their health care.

“We recognize the fundamental shift a statewide health care commission is in our relationship with local school boards,” Allen said. “But it is clear that unless our members have the opportunity to work as equals with school boards in determining their health benefits, and unless strong reform measures are pursued and achieved by school employees and school boards to bring down the irrationally high costs of health care, Vermont’s public school employees will continue to see health care become less affordable.”

In the measure passed by delegates to the union’s annual meeting, a statewide health benefits commission will ensure that the following objectives are achieved:

  • It will design, manage, and offer to all school employees a health benefit plan that is comprehensive, affordable, equitable and based on an employee’s ability to pay.
  • It will establish full equality in its governance structures and operational procedures between representatives of school boards and Vermont-NEA representatives of school employees.
  • It will facilitate the transition of school employees’ health benefits to a new system in such a manner that avoids further chaos in the system, is fully transparent, and responds immediately and effectively to concerns or problems arising from the transition.
  • It will vigorously research and foster the implementation of rational health care cost control opportunities and ways to achieve a more efficient, patient-centric, health care system.
  • It will recognize that the majority of school employees are women and not exacerbate the already unacceptable compensation gap between educational employees and other more male-dominated professions.

“We encourage legislative leaders and the governor to work with us in establishing this commission over the coming weeks,” Allen said. “The governor has said he wants health insurance for public school employees determined at the state level, and we hope he will see this proposal as the right way to design and implement plans that do right by the women and men who teach our state’s children.”

You can read an outline of the union’s proposal and more details here.

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February 23, 2018

Vermont Supreme Court Rules School Labor Negotiations Not Subject to Open Meeting Law

In unanimous ruling, court rejects Vermont School Boards Association push to force public bargaining

MONTPELIER – The state’s highest court on Friday unanimously rejected a Vermont School Boards Association-backed assertion that the state’s Open Meeting Law required boards and local education associations to conduct contract talks in public.

“We hold that collective bargaining labor negotiations…are not ‘meetings’ under the Open Meeting Law,” Justice Harold E. Eaton Jr. wrote for the court in Negotiations Committee of Caledonia Central Supervisory Union v. Caledonia Central Education Association.

The matter was argued before the Supreme Court after the school board rejected a Vermont Labor Relations Board finding that said the Open Meeting Law does not apply to labor negotiations. The Caledonia Central Education Association, represented by Vermont-NEA lawyer Rebecca McBroom, argued before the labor board – and again before the Supreme Court – that applying the Open Meeting Law to contract talks would disrupt decades of labor practice.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion we have: that the Open Meeting Law was never intended to force public bargaining,” McBroom said. “This is a good ruling for labor relations, and it means that local educators and local school boards can have robust and productive contract talks as equals at the table.”

The case came about in 2016 when the negotiating committee for the Caledonia Central Supervisory Union said that contract talks with educators had to occur in public, adopting a relatively new assertion pushed by the state school boards association. The education association rejected that argument, and contended that talks be held in private as they have in the past. The school board in December 2016 asked the Caledonia Superior Court to rule that the Open Meeting Law applied; that court ultimately dismissed the board’s suit saying the Vermont Labor Relations Board was the appropriate venue.  The school board appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, resulting in today’s ruling.

Earlier, in a similar dispute between the Washington Northeast Supervisory Union and the Cabot Teachers’ Association and Twinfield Education Association, the Vermont Labor Relations Board ruled that the Open Meeting Law could not be used to force public negotiations.

The Supreme Court argued that the Open Meeting Law itself is ambiguous on whether it applies to labor talks. However, the court concluded the intersection of that law with the Public Records Act, the Labor Relations for Teachers and Administrators Act, and decades of past practice make it clear that the Open Meetings Law does not compel public contract talks. “Considering the sensitive nature of certain negotiation topics – such as references to individual employees or private information regarding specific personnel – we find it unlikely the Legislature chose not to provide a mechanism for a committee and a teacher’s association to negotiate privately in these instances,” the court said.

The court also made clear that contract talks are meetings of equal parties, and applying the Open Meeting Law would upend that balance. “We are especially gratified that the Supreme Court reaffirmed that educators and school boards are equals at the bargaining table,” McBroom said.  

The court also outright rejected the newly formed VSBA assertion that the law requires public bargaining. For decades, the court pointed out, teachers and school boards have conducted bargaining in private. “We are hard-pressed to believe that the experienced lawyers engaged in labor negotiations of this type overlooked this issue until recently,” the court said.

The court also pointed out that provisions in the Public Records Act related to teacher bargaining stand squarely in opposition to an argument that bargaining must be done in public. The court specifically said that prohibitions on the release of certain documents “makes little sense if the earlier aspects of negotiation have been conducted in public.”

You can read the decision here.

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February 22, 2018

Vermont-NEA President: Governor, Attorney General, and Legislative Leaders Right to Move Quickly on Measures to End Gun Violence

A week after 17 were shot to death in a Florida high school, Vermont officials hear pleas of students, educators, parents

MONTPELIER – In an extraordinary bipartisan shift on the issue of guns, Gov. Phil Scott, Attorney General T.J. Donovan, and legislative leaders today pledged to pass laws that will, as the governor said, “keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as president of Vermont-NEA, issued the following statement:

“Unlike the president and his preposterous proposal to arm teachers with guns, Vermont’s leaders actually made a commitment today to start the hard work of making sure that what happened in Florida last week – and almost happened here a day later – never occurs again. I commend Gov. Scott, Attorney General Donovan, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe for coming out strongly in favor of enacting common-sense measures to stem gun violence.

“By affirming support for measures that would strengthen background checks, ban the sale of devices that can convert legal firearms to illegal automatic weapons, increase the age requirement for the purchase of guns, and give law enforcement the tools to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other dangerous people, our officials are taking appropriate steps toward reducing the incidence of gun violence.

“Additionally, we welcome the governor’s proposals today to get at some of the underlying issues that drive some young people toward violence, and we commend his call for school security reviews, improved mental health services, and an expanded response to and treatment of adverse childhood experiences.

“Every day, the women and men who teach Vermont’s children strive to ensure schools are safe havens. On the same day that President Trump’s solution to gun violence was merely the presence of more guns in our schools, Vermont’s leaders showed that they actually take this issue seriously.

“Too many of our country’s children have been slaughtered in their schools over the last two decades of inaction on gun violence. I hope that today marks a retreat from that fatal do-nothing stance, and that here in Vermont we can actually make a difference. Our children are counting on it.”

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February 8, 2018

Vermont Educators, Most of Whom are Women, Feel Ignored in Education Debates

Rutgers Study Finds Teachers, Paraeducatorss Believe Their Voices Aren’t Heard in Montpelier

MONTPELIER – As the governor talks of eliminating 4,100 public school jobs, women educators – who would bear the brunt of the layoffs – believe their “voice on the job was being put in jeopardy by men in Montpelier,” according to a Rutgers University report released to lawmakers today.

The report -- “Women’s Work? Voices of Vermont’s Educators” – relied on a survey of over 1,100 Vermont educators, and interviews with teachers and education support professionals across the state. The Rutgers researchers found a workforce overwhelmingly made up of women who feel left out of the debates over education policy in Montpelier.

“To that end, it is imperative to hear their voices,” the researchers – Rebecca Kolins Givan and Pamela Whitefield – wrote. “As one teacher put it, ‘there are more men in the political sphere. Our profession is mostly made up of women, but all of these men are making decisions about our lives, and they really don’t understand our reality.’”

The report details that reality. Among the key findings:

  • Over three quarters of Vermont’s educators are women, including 75 percent of teachers and 87 percent of paraeducators.
  • Nearly 40 percent of paraeducators are the primary earners in their household, but fewer than one-in-three paraprofessionals can survive on this income alone.
  • In Vermont, teachers are paid only 87 percent of the typical salary of other professionals with the same level of education.
  • Educators are experiencing high levels of workplace violence and threats of violence. Almost one out of eight teachers say they have been physically attacked by a student in the past year. Nearly a quarter of paraprofessionals reports having been physically attacked in the last year.
  • Sixty percent of educators said they knew of a family in the school where they work who had experienced foreclosure or eviction in the past year. One quarter of educators reported knowing a family in their school who had faced bankruptcy in the past year.
  • Nearly 70 percent of educators say they know a family in their school that has been affected by opioid addiction in the past year.
  • Ninety-nine percent of educators say they spend their own money on classroom supplies with a third spending more than $500 a year. Eighty percent also spend money helping students in need.

“The educators at the core of Vermont’s excellent school system are under increasing pressure,” the researchers wrote. “While Vermont’s children are still receiving a high-quality education, the system increasingly depends on staff who take on second jobs, dip into their own pockets to help their students.”

The researchers also reported that educators believe things would be different if it weren’t a female-dominated profession. “In our interviews and our survey results, we consistently observed educators’ frustration that their voice on the job was being put in jeopardy by men (as they saw it) in Montpelier, who did not understand how hard educators are working and how much financial stress they endure.”

The research was conducted by the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. Givan, an associate professor of labor students and employment relations, will present her findings today and tomorrow to several House and Senate committees.  Whitefield, a doctoral candidate at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, lives in White River Junction. You can read the report here.

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January 25, 2018

By Raising Black Lives Matter Flag, Montpelier High School Rightly Shines Light on Systemic Racism

President of state’s largest union honors work of students, faculty in addressing implicit bias

MONTPELIER – The Montpelier School Board’s unanimous approval of a student-led effort to hoist a Black Lives Matter flag for the month of February is an important step in acknowledging the systemic racism experienced by students of color, according to the president of the state’s largest union.

The following statement can be attributed to Martha Allen, a school librarian from Canaan who serves as president of Vermont-NEA, which represents 14,000 teachers and support professionals in every public school in Vermont.

“The first step in rooting out systemic racism is to acknowledge that it exists. I am humbled by and proud of the work done by Montpelier High School’s student-led Racial Justice Alliance for beginning this conversation among students, teachers, staff, parents, and the community. The students who are leading this effort are changing perspectives among their peers, reiterating that students of color face a far different world than their white counterparts.

“Systemic racism and implicit bias have plagued our nation for centuries, making a mockery of the American assertion that all people are created equal. Yes, we are all human, but, for hundreds of years, Americans of color have suffered greatly because of the ravages of racism that are long-standing and systemic.

“In flying the Black Lives Matter flag, Montpelier High School is officially saying that bias exists. I am encouraged by this step, and am glad to see that school officials are actively addressing with teachers, students, and staff the experiences of students of color who uniquely bear the brunt of our nation’s systemic racism.

"I want to congratulate the hard work by the students of the Racial Justice Alliance, who put it exactly right when they said, ‘We will raise the flag with love in our hearts and voices.’"

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January 23, 2019

Governor Scott’s Latest Ratio Scheme Hits Students Harder and Leads to More Than 4,000 Lost Jobs

Economic analysis predicts massive cuts that will shortchange generations of Vermont students

MONTPELIER – As the governor prepares to deliver his annual budget address, his proposal to enforce an arbitrary student-to-staff ratio will lead to massive cuts that will shortchange students and lead to the loss of 4,100 middle class jobs, according to an analysis prepared by economists at the National Education Association.

When the governor first proposed his first-in-the-nation scheme last month, he claimed it would not hurt students. In fact, the analysis concludes the governor’s plan depends on a hiring freeze that will lead to 4,151 lost jobs between now and 2021. Those thousands of Vermonters put out of work under the governor’s plan live in every community in the state. The analysis calculated that among those losing their jobs will be 1,710 teachers and 2,442 education support professionals.

“It is impossible to build the country’s best education system when you slash support for students and throw thousands of middle class Vermonters out of work,” said Martha Allen, a school librarian from Canaan who serves as president of Vermont-NEA. “The governor says he wants to protect our most vulnerable, especially those who are facing the ravages of the opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, his dangerous scheme will hit our most vulnerable children the hardest.”

According to the analysis, it will take four years to reach the scheme’s target. Along the way it will result in dramatically larger class sizes in many communities while cutting resources Vermont’s students depend on by more than $250 million a year.

“We need to ensure that all kids get a quality education. Slashing resources and laying off 4,100 educators will hurt our students and make it harder – not easier – for them to succeed,” Allen said. “If this scheme isn’t stopped, middle class Vermonters will be out of work, our schools will suffer, and, worst of all, our students will be robbed of the futures they deserve.”

Read the full analysis here.

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December 13, 2017

Governor Scott’s Latest Education Proposal Would Put Thousands of Vermonters Out of Work

Slashing 2,700 jobs is a curious way to create jobs and support students

MONTPELIER – Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to slash resources for our state’s students would put nearly 2,700 hard-working Vermonters out of work, according to numbers furnished by his education secretary.

Last week, the governor suggested that the state should consider mandating a minimum student-to-staff ratio that would be the first of its kind in the nation.

“That’s a first our students don’t deserve,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as president of Vermont-NEA. “At a time when the governor says he wants the nation’s best education system, it makes no sense to propose doing less for our students.”

The governor’s proposal will particularly hurt those students whose families are facing the ravages of the opioid epidemic; who are living in poverty; whose first language isn’t English; who are disabled and are on individualized education plans; and who rely on one-on-one interaction with educators.

The proposal will also be detrimental to the economy. In the most recent report on job creation in Vermont, about 3,300 jobs were created in October. A layoff of 2,700 educators would all but wipe out those job gains – and would be the equivalent number of jobs lost if Global Foundries in Essex Jct. were to close.

“For a governor who made growing our economy and creating jobs a centerpiece of his agenda, slashing nearly 3,000 jobs is a most curious way of creating jobs,” Allen said. “We’ve had enough of his DC-style politics that promises ‘big, once-in-a-generation’ savings but in reality only shortchanges Vermont’s children.”

(Note: We calculated the job losses associated with the governor’s scheme using data on school employment and student counts provided by Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe in her memo last month to school boards urging them to reduce the number of educators in their schools.)

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December 2, 2017

Rutland Northeast Paraeducators, Bus Drivers Reach Tentative Contract Agreement with Boards, Averting Strike

After 18 months without a contract, the bus drivers and paraeducators negotiate a settlement after day-long bargaining session

BRANDON, Vt. – The bus drivers and paraeducators of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union reached a tentative agreement on a contract with the district’s boards today, averting a strike that was authorized to begin Tuesday.

“I am pleased that we and the boards were able to reach a tentative agreement that keeps us all where we want to be: in our classrooms and driving our buses,” said Jennifer Mallory, the chief negotiator and co-president of the Rutland Northeast Education Association Paraeducators and Bus Drivers Unit. “As friends, neighbors, and fellow parents of the community, we are glad we and the boards were able to negotiate a settlement.”

Details of the contract will be released after it has been ratified by both the association and the boards.

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November 30, 2017

Rutland Northeast Paraeducators, Bus Drivers to Strike Dec. 5 if Boards Refuse to Reach Contract Settlement

After 18 months without a contract, the bus drivers and paraeducators who dedicate their days to the district’s children urge the boards to return to the table

BRANDON, Vt. – The bus drivers and paraeducators of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union today voted to go on strike Tuesday if the boards refuse to reach a contract settlement.

“We have taken this drastic step because the boards have engaged in a years-long attack on us and our livelihoods,” said Jennifer Mallory, a paraeducator who serves as the co-president of the Rutland Northeast Education Association Paraeducators and Bus Drivers Unit. “Let me be clear: unless the board decides to return to the bargaining table and stay there until we have a negotiated contract, we will go on strike Tuesday morning.”

The decision to strike comes amidst a years-long contract dispute in which the boards have spent more than $100,000 on consultants and high-priced attorneys to not reach a settlement with the paraeducators and bus drivers. Indeed, the boards have spent more taxpayer dollars not settling than if they had accepted the recommendations of neutral fact-finder.

The boards are the first-ever in Vermont history to impose terms of employment retroactively. The boards walked away from talks this spring. The paraeducators and bus drivers – among the lowest paid school employees – have been without a contract since 2016.

“It’s time for the boards to stop working against us and do what’s right for our schools, our communities, and our students,” Mallory said, acknowledging that the board’s bargaining chairman once again invited the association to bargain a new contract. However, their “offer” to talk does not address the fact that they imposed employment terms unilaterally.  “As friends, neighbors, and fellow parents, we urge the boards to join us at the table, rescind their imposed terms of employment, and reach a negotiated contract settlement now. It’s not too late.”

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September 13, 2017

Burlington Teachers to Strike Tomorrow

Mayor’s involvement fails to convince board to reach contract agreement that stems exodus of teachers and gives teachers tools to work more closely with students

BURLINGTON – Members of the Burlington Education Association will go on strike tomorrow morning as a last-minute call by a former federal mediator and Mayor Miro Weinberger failed to convince the board to reach a deal with teachers.

“The board continues to claim that it wants to work collaboratively with us to address the achievement gap, but their actions say otherwise,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School History teacher who serves as president of the 400-member union. “Today, they had an opportunity to work with us to address the achievement gap in our elementary schools. They did not take that opportunity. They had an opportunity to work with us to stem the exodus of teachers by reaching a deal that attracts and retains the best for our city’s students. They failed to do so. And they continued their years-long quest to institute top-down approaches that do nothing for our students.”

The teachers were set to strike today, but agreed to hold off because a former federal mediator invited both sides and the mayors to meet.

The board brought this clash to a head when it voted Sept. 1 to impose terms of employment on teachers only minutes after the previous contract expired. It was the second year in a row that this board imposed terms as quickly as it could. This board is also only one of seven in the history of Vermont to take this step more than once – and most boards have never used the option even once.

“We’ve compromised – again today – on health insurance and salary,” Brock noted, saying teachers were willing to accept the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder. “I guess the board really meant what it said when it rejected the reasonable approach outlined by the fact-finder.”

Brock noted that the union’s bargaining committee accepted high school working condition language that establishes a collaborative committee to examine means of providing services to students in effort to close the achievement gap. However, the board insisted on imposing too many non-teaching duties on elementary school teachers, limiting their ability to provide professional services to students.

“We’ve been trying to get the board to understand that elementary teachers are having too much of their time drawn away from one-on-one interaction with students,” Brock said. “And now, for more than three years, they still won’t budge.”

The city’s teachers will begin their strike tomorrow morning. For regular updates, please go to www.beaworks.com. The BEA also has a strike headquarters at 294 N. Winooski Ave., Suite 125 in Burlington’s Old North End.

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June 19, 2017

Educators Who Supported Gov. Scott Regret Votes

Holding the budget hostage – and risking a government shutdown in 11 days – are not what these educators bargained for when they voted for Scott in November

MONTPELIER – It’s no secret that Phil Scott received support from members of Vermont-NEA last year, but three of those educators now say that he’s lost their votes because of his recent DC-style actions attacking educators and threatening a government shutdown.

“Teachers are voters. Teachers are volunteers. Teachers work hard for our kids,” said David Cornwell, a social studies teacher at Rutland Middle School, in a letter to the governor. Cornwell said that the plan by the governor and the Vermont School Boards Association takes power from locally elected school board members, and intrudes into the relationship between school boards and their employees. “To hold the entire budget up to get your way is juvenile and inappropriate. I am unimpressed, and will not vote for you again.”

Even though legislators did not approve the governor’s plan to strip away local control – and any locally generated savings because of changes in educators’ health insurance plans – they did offer compromises. The governor balked at all of them. Instead of accepting the defeat of his idea, he vetoed the state budget, even though only one lawmaker voted against it when it was originally passed. He also vetoed the education funding bill.

The result of those actions? In 11 days, the state government will shut down and local schools will face a $400 million shortfall.

The vetoes gave Amy Emerson, an early childhood special educator and preschool teacher at Blue Mountain Union School, pause. “I voted for Phil Scott, and I voted for him for a few reasons,” she said, noting that after watching the Vermont-NEA Gubernatorial Debate she found that “he was a stronger candidate with a more comprehensive background in education.” She noted that the timing of his proposal to gut collective bargaining – and his earlier calls on school boards to rewrite their budgets – was “very calculated” to cause disruptions in local contract talks between local school boards and local educators.

“His constant attack on schools and teachers is very disheartening,” Emerson said. “He says he has the communities’ best interests at heart. Is it good for a community to constantly and in a very calculated manner pit communities against their schools? I don’t believe it is.”

Fran Brock, a history teacher at Burlington High School, is an independent voter who doesn’t vote along party lines of any kind; indeed, she doesn’t automatically vote for candidates endorsed by Vermont-NEA or any other organization. “I also have a great deal of respect for some of Vermont’s previous Republican leadership, folks like Robert Stafford who helped author the low-interest student loans for college-bound students as well as the Clean Water Act; and Jim Jeffords, another strong supporter of education. I really thought, based on Mr. Scott’s record as lieutenant governor, that he was cut from the same Yankee Republican cloth as those men,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, I was wrong.”

She now regrets voting for Scott. “Because I am a public-school teacher and a proud member of Vermont-NEA, he probably assumed I didn’t vote for him,” she said. “He assumed wrong but now I can assure him that I won’t vote for him again.”

(Note: Five years ago, Scott received the backing of Vermont-NEA’s board of directors in his reelection bid as lieutenant governor.)

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June 6, 2017

State Teachers of the Year Decry Scott’s DC-Style Budget Veto and Looming State Government Shutdown

By rejecting budget and education funding bill, Gov. Scott digs $400 million hole for our schools and threatens to shutter state government

MONTPELIER – Three Vermont Teachers of the Year joined Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen in denouncing Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of a balanced state budget and responsible education funding bill.

“As you know, Governor Phil Scott today vetoed a balanced budget and a responsible education funding bill, putting us less than a month away from a state government shutdown – and a $400 million hole in funding for our schools and students,” said Allen, a K-12 librarian who is the elected president of the Vermont-NEA. “We’re here today to tell the governor that his DC-style response to not being able to complete his attack on educators is dangerous to all Vermonters, not just educators and students. If the state’s government shuts down, vital services for all of us will be in jeopardy.”

Scott and the Vermont School Boards Association want to wrest power from local school boards and fundamentally alter the relationship between them and their employees – local educators. His scheme would jeopardize the half-century of progress made in our state’s local communities that has given Vermont public schools that are among the best in the country.

Allen was joined by Kate McCann, the 2017 Vermont Teacher of the Year; Susan Koch, the 2016 Vermont Teacher of the Year; and Rebecca Haslam, the 2015 Vermont Teacher of the Year.

“The Vermont way of sitting around the table and working things out is in jeopardy when DC-style politics come our way,” said McCann, who teaches at U-32 in East Montpelier. “Let’s turn our attention to making our schools even better for Vermont’s students instead of trying to find ways to strip away power from local school boards and the women and men who work for them.  And let’s not threaten all Vermonters with a DC-style government shutdown.”

Koch, who teaches in Montpelier, said she was dismayed by Scott’s vetoes. “Governor Scott, you told us that you decry DC-style political operatives, and said you would never stoop to being that way in Vermont. Well, today you showed that you’d rather threaten our state’s budget – and the many services it funds for all Vermonters – until you get your way,” she said. “Vermont is not DC. I urge you to please stop this attack on me and my fellow educators and to stop this needless threat of a government shutdown.”

Haslam, a 12-year veteran teacher who works in Burlington’s schools, said that Vermonters deserve – and expect – better from the governor. “Gov. Scott’s veto threatens to shut down Vermont’s government so he can wage a political attack on public school educators and our public school system,” she said. “Vermonters deserve true leadership that focuses on putting people first, protecting our environment, and investing in our children’s future.”

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May 18, 2017

Educators Not Alone in Opposition to Gov. Scott’s Plans to Gut Collective Bargaining and Take Power from Local School Boards

Fellow unions, local school board members, and advocacy groups decry attempt to erode local control

MONTPELIER -- Yesterday, hundreds of educators rallied at the Statehouse against a plan put forth by Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont School Boards Association that would gut collective bargaining and wrest control from locally elected school boards.

But they aren’t the only ones decrying the plan to turn educators’ health insurance decisions over to the state and weaken local control. A range of groups – from 16 fellow labor unions to environmental organizations to local school boards – are calling on the governor to stop playing politics with the health insurance – and bargaining rights – of Vermont’s educators.

“Vermont should not be having a discussion that undermines collective bargaining. Local bargaining is a fundamental right of all workers and a core part of the 50-year success story in Vermont of local boards and educators working together to create one of the best public school systems in the country,” said eight organizations including Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Vermont Conservation Voters, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Main Street Alliance, Voices for Vermont’s Children, and others. “A healthy Vermont economy is one that supports workers and employers -- in this case, that means teachers and local schools. We all have a stake in ensuring that the next generation has a bright future, and our public schools are an essential part of making that happen.”

Others have been vocal in their opposition to the plan put forth by the governor and VSBA, including local school boards and their members. “I serve on a school board and the Vermont School Boards Association (VSBA) in Montpelier, which is supposed to represent local school boards, has just spent the last two years sending out a small army of consultants on a mission to dismantle local school boards,” wrote Hazen Union School Board member David Kelly in a VT Digger commentary today. “The savings the governor is talking about can easily be achieved at the local level, with far greater assurance that those savings will be spent prudently. Importantly, we could be shaping much wiser public policies if there was an association in Montpelier that actually represented local school boards. Some of the hardest-working and most capable public servants in our state serve on local school boards.”

Earlie this month, the Montpelier School Board formally voted to oppose the governor’s and VSBA’s plan. In Burlington, Liz Curry, a member of the city’s school board wrote on Front Porch Forum that “the Governor and VT School Board Association are railroading this issue without careful consideration of the impacts on Districts like Burlington that are already deep into the contract negotiations process – indeed, we are currently in mediation with proposals already on the table. Our negotiations proposals were carefully thought out during the budget process, and built into the budget that voters approved on Town Meeting Day. Health care costs are a core component of any union bargaining process and having an outside party take it off the table in the middle of negotiations reduces the opportunity to accommodate the needs of all BSD stakeholders: children, families, teachers, and tax-payers.”

And two days ago, 16 unions representing more than 100,000 workers and their families, noted their opposition to the plan to take power from local educators and local school boards.

“The governor and VSBA have doubled down on their assertions that gutting collective bargaining and taking away power from local school boards will hold educators harmless,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian who serves as president of Vermont-NEA. “They have yet to prove that assertion. It’s clear they have one objective: gutting collective bargaining rights and weakening local school boards.”

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May 17, 2017

Not So Fast: VEHI Has NOT Confirmed Economic Effects of Governor’s Plan to Gut Collective Bargaining and Upend Local Control

Analysis cited this morning by governor’s office has not been reviewed by a VEHI co-trust administrator and once again was done without consulting the organization representing 40,000 insured Vermonters

MONTPELIER – Contrary to a statement issued by Gov. Phil Scott’s office this morning, the economic effects of his plan to gut collective bargaining and wrest control from local school boards has not been confirmed by the Vermont Education Health Initiative.

The analysis cited by the governor has yet to be shared with or reviewed by one of the two VEHI co-trust administrators. It is yet another instance where the governor and the Vermont School Boards Association have declined to discuss the effects of his scheme with Vermont-NEA, the organization that represents most of the 40,000 Vermonters who are insured through VEHI.

“We really wish the governor and VSBA would spend a little more time doing their homework,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as the president of the 14,000-member Vermont-NEA. “From the very beginning, they have worked together to dump their scheme on us rather than having a substantive discussion about what is really best for Vermont’s communities, schools, educators, and students.”

The governor and VSBA doubled down on their assertions that gutting collective bargaining and taking away power from local school boards will hold educators harmless. They have yet to prove that assertion. “All along, the governor and VSBA have peddled a plan that is designed to do only one thing: take control from local school boards and weaken the relationship between local educators and local school boards,” Allen said.

Vermont-NEA is seeking to review whatever analysis the governor and VSBA are relying on to make their assertions.  In addition, both the Joint Fiscal Office and the Office of Legislative Counsel have raised questions about the economic and legal assumptions the governor and VSBA have made while peddling their plan.

Vermont-NEA continues to oppose the governor’s plan to take away the ability of local educators and local school boards to negotiate directly with one another.

# # # 

May 16, 2017

Vermont’s Labor Community Stands With Educators Against Multiple Assaults on Rights of Working Vermonters

Labor unions decry attacks by the governor and others on educators and all working Vermonters

MONTPELIER – Representatives from more than a dozen labor unions joined Vermont-NEA today to call on legislators to reject plans put forth by Gov. Phil Scott and others that would gut educators’ collective bargaining rights and strip power from local school boards.

“We urge lawmakers to stand up for the rights of working women and all working people. We urge lawmakers to continue to reject the governor’s call to erode collective bargaining rights for the women and men who work every day with Vermont’s children,” said Allen, a K-12 librarian who is the elected president of her 14,000-member union. “We urge lawmakers to place their trust where it belongs: with locally elected school boards and the local educators who work for them. Together, they will continue to do right by our communities, our schools, our educators and, as they’ve shown over the decades, our students.

The governor in the waning days of the session dumped a proposal developed by the Vermont School Boards Association that would strip away power from locally elected school boards and end collective bargaining for health insurance. Since then, the House and Senate have rejected that approach. The Senate proposed a plan that would generate the savings the governor said he wants but keep collective bargaining intact. The Speaker of the House, unfortunately, unveiled an outline of a plan yesterday that would severely curtail collective bargaining.

Other unions made it clear that the attack on the members of Vermont-NEA – who are predominantly women – was an attack on all working Vermonters.

“I am proud to stand here today in solidarity with the teachers and our fellow union brothers and sisters,” said Bradley Reed, the president of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont. “It was a few short years ago when a similar effort was made in Wisconsin where police and fire were ‘spared’ but are now facing tremendous pressures in the face of tactics which are intended to reduce the power of working people.”

Jason Serota-Winston, an Intensive Care Nurse at UVM Medical Center and vice-president of AFT Vermont, called the governor’s approach a warning to all working people. “Gov. Scott’s attack on the right of Vermont-NEA members to bargain for quality health insurance is an attack on the rights of every Vermont worker because it undermines the power of collective bargaining,” he said.

Raymond Bettis, president of United Steelworkers Amalgamated Local #4 in Barre, agreed. “The Steelworkers of Vermont stand united with our brothers and sisters in the Vermont NEA because an attack on the rights of one labor union is an attack on the rights of all unions, and in fact all working people in Vermont,” he said.

All of the unions standing with Vermont-NEA today – representing tens of thousands of workers and their families – urged lawmakers to reject any plan that infringes on educators’ collective bargaining rights while stripping power from locally elected and locally accountable school boards.

In addition to Vermont-NEA, AFT-Vermont, United Steelworkers Amalgamated Local #4, and the Professional Firefighters of Vermont, the other unions represented today are: AFSCME Council 93; Bricklayers Local 2; Carpenters Local 1996; IBEW Local 300; IBEW Local 2326; NALC Local 241; Sheet Metal Workers Local 63; Teamsters Local 597; UA Local 693, Plumbers and Pipefitters; United Academics (AAUP/AFT Local 3203) Vermont AFL-CIO; United Union of Roofers Local 241; Vermont State Employees Association; Vermont Troopers Association; and Vermont AFL-CIO.

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April 20, 2017

Governor’s, School Boards’ Proposal on Teachers’ Health Insurance is Anti-Union Intrusion into Collective Bargaining

State’s largest union agrees with Democratic leadership in saying ‘no’ to plan that would strip power from local school boards and local teachers

MONTPELIER -- A proposal by Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont School Boards Association to force local school boards and local teachers to give up their ability to negotiate with each other over health insurance is an anti-union intrusion into collective bargaining, according to Vermont-NEA.

The state’s largest union agrees with the Democratic leadership in saying this proposal to force teachers to negotiate over health insurance directly with the state should be rejected out-of-hand by the General Assembly.

The following statement can be attributed to Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president:

“This assault on collective bargaining is straight out of the Donald Trump and Scott Walker anti-union playbook. It will end up hampering the ability of local school boards and local educators to do what's best for their schools and children. The state does not employ teachers in Vermont – locally elected and accountable school boards do.

“The half-century of collective bargaining in Vermont shows that local give and take works. Indeed, contrary to the anti-union proposals of the VSBA and the governor, settlements reached in communities across Vermont show that the system works. Already, a handful of local school boards have settled multi-year contracts with their local associations that balance the needs of students, communities, and teachers while producing savings for local taxpayers.

“It's too bad the VSBA and the governor have so little faith in local school boards to do what's best for their communities that they want to grab power and impose a Montpelier-based solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Unfortunately, the VSBA has done its best to dismantle the Vermont Education Health Initiative in the last year. In so doing, the VSBA has jeopardized VEHI’s two-decade track record in producing millions of dollars a year of savings to our local communities.

“We expect better from the VSBA, and we expect better from the governor, who pledged during the campaign to respect collective bargaining rights. 

“This proposal runs counter to the governor’s campaign promise, and would put Vermont in the company of anti-worker states. While we are disappointed that the governor and VSBA would introduce this proposal, we are grateful to Democratic leaders who agree with us and have pledged to reject this gross intrusion into the collective bargaining rights of the women and men who educate our children.”

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February 23, 2017

Vermont-NEA Calls on Schools, Superintendents to Continue Protecting Rights of All Students

President Trump's Order Hateful, Wrong

MONTPELIER -- Vermont-NEA deplores President Trump’s decision reversing guidance protecting the rights of transgender students from discrimination. The educators’ union notes that the president’s action does not change federal law protecting all students from discrimination, and calls on all Vermont superintendents to join educators in making sure every student feels welcomed and protected. 

The following statement can be attributed to Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as president of Vermont-NEA:

I am appalled at the president’s hurtful decision to threaten students. It is wrong and dangerous, and it goes against the very values we hold dear as educators and Vermonters. Since the president’s action doesn't change federal laws that protect all students, I urge all Vermont schools and their superintendents to join us in protecting the rights of all students, especially LGBTQ children who are most threatened by this hateful action.

As educators, parents, and Vermonters, my fellow Vermont-NEA members and I remain resolved in making sure our schools are welcoming to all students. 

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February 14, 2017

Senate Approval of Expanded Farm-to-School Bill Great News for Vermont’s Students, Farms and Rural Economy

State’s educators know the link between learning and the availability of good, nutritious food

MONTPELIER – The Senate’s passage today of an expanded farm-to-school bill is great news for Vermont’s students, farmers, and rural economy, according to the president of the state’s largest educators union.

The following statement can be attributed to Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian who serves as the president of Vermont-NEA:

“As educators, my fellow members and I know how important nutrition is to our students. We also know that getting fresher, better, and locally grown and produced food into our schools is a worthy goal that boosts student learning, helps our hard-working farmers, and expands our rural economy.

“The program passed today by the Senate sets some of the most aggressive farm-to-school goals in the country. By 2025, the program would have schools purchase at least 50 percent of their food from local or regional food sources.

“This is type of program that brings out the best in Vermont. By helping our children learn about and eat more fresh, local food, we will give farmers steady, local customers and we will also boost our local economy for generations to come.”

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January 24, 2017

Vermont-NEA Gives Scott Education Plans an Incomplete

Governor’s vision cannot be achieved by firing educators and crippling communities’ investment in their children

MONTPELIER – Gov. Phil Scott’s education proposals will do great harm to Vermont’s local public schools by laying off hundreds of educators, shuttering schools and cutting the pay of the men and women who teach the state’s children, according to the president of Vermont-NEA.

“Governor Scott’s goal of making our public schools the best in the country is laudable, and it is one we share,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian who serves as president of Vermont-NEA. “Unfortunately, his proposals today will, sadly, do nothing but hamper the ability of Vermont’s local communities to invest in their children.  By freezing property tax rates, capping school budgets, firing hundreds of educators and seeking $15 million in pay cuts from educators, the governor will not achieve what we all want: a top-notch education for our children.”

Allen said that at a time when the governor wants to expand opportunity for all Vermonters, his proposals could cripple the single-most important tool for a prosperous economy: top-quality local public schools. She added that another dangerous feature of the governor’s proposals expanding early education and adding support for higher education is that it taps the property-tax fueled Education Fund.

“We believe that Gov. Scott’s proposal to begin boosting support for higher education is a good start,” she said. “But we disagree with his proposal to turn to Vermont’s property taxpayers to foot the bill.”

The students of Vermont’s local public schools stand to suffer if all of the governor’s proposals are enacted, Allen said. “Doing more with less is a great mantra, be we all know that’s all it is,” Allen said. “If we want more, we have to do more. By taking such a blunt hammer to our local public schools, Governor Scott will make Vermont a far less attractive place to live, work and raise a family. We give the governor’s education proposals an ‘Incomplete’ as it needs work to gain the support of the women and men who teach Vermont’s students.”

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December 8, 2016

Rutland School Administrators Retaliated Against Educators Instead of Working to Stem Student-on-Staff Attacks

Union files unfair labor practice charge

RUTLAND – Instead of working to stem a years-long pattern of physical attacks by students on Rutland City Public Schools’ educators, the district’s leadership defied recommendations from state workplace safety experts and retaliated against the educators’ union, according to an unfair labor practice charge filed yesterday.

The charge comes after four years of escalating instances of student-on-staff violence, culminating with more than 71 attacks on 33 educators in a six-month period earlier this year. It also comes after workplace safety officials from the Vermont Department of Labor fined the district for its failure to address the growing – and continuing – problem. The charge was filed by the Rutland Education Association at the Vermont Labor Relations Board.

“Instead of working with us to solve a serious problem – one that affects students and staff alike – the district chose to blame the victims of violent attacks for engaging the Department of Labor,” said Ellen Green, a Rutland High School Spanish teacher who serves as the president of the Rutland Education Association.

Susan Ponto, an AP and Honors chemistry teacher at Rutland High School who serves as the union’s vice president and grievance chair, added, “It is of great concern that the administration and school board would rather blame educators than work collaboratively to protect students.”

According to the charge, which is lodged against the Rutland School Board, Superintendent Mary Moran and Assistant Superintendent Robert Bliss, administrators mislead safety investigators after reaching a settlement in which the labor department fined the district thousands of dollars for failing to “furnish each of its employees employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing significant physical harm to its employees” because “paraeducators and other staff were exposed to the hazard of workplace violence by” students.

The charge says that instead of working to address the underlying issues of student-on-staff violence, Bliss “attempted to blame staff for workplace violence by asserting that ‘the adults were antagonizing the students.’” Bliss also wrote to safety investigators that he “anticipated” that “the union will attempt to belittle the fact that their members did not conduct themselves professionally.”

Among the injuries to educators were some serious enough to warrant hospitalization. In its findings, the Department of Labor noted that educators encountered students “throwing, kicking, hitting or otherwise exhibiting inappropriate behavior.” The department also noted a “lack of management commitment” to give educators the ability to “effectively deal with workplace violence.”

Instead, according to the charge, Bliss authored guidelines that demanded that all educators wear closed-toe shoes to address what he said was the top cause of workplace injury: slips, trips and falls. When notified by the union of the apparent disconnect with student-on-staff violence, the Department of Labor slammed Bliss, saying, “It seems very odd to have this statement and resulting policy change…Is this related to the hazard (workplace violence) that we had originally spoken about? While this hazard could be a very valid concern, addressing it in this procedure seems odd and distracting from the original intent of protecting workers from hazards associated with violent interactions.”

The charge asks the Vermont Labor Relations Board to require the administration to cease retaliating against the union for reporting the unsafe working environment in Rutland schools; to work collaboratively with the union to address relevant safety remedies; and to rescind the closed-toe shoes policy and reimburse educators who had to purchase shoes to comply with the policy.

“What we in the REA have asked for since 2012 is that our administration and school board will work with us who are in the classrooms to keep our students and staff safe,” Green said. “It is disappointing that we have had to take the legal venue to achieve this. We would like to move forward to work with the administration to make our schools a model of safety for the state of Vermont.”

A copy of the charge can be found right here.

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November 7, 2016

Vermont-NEA Taps Fannon as New Executive Director

Union’s long-time general counsel to replace retiring Joel Cook on January 1

MONTPELIER – Jeff Fannon, the long-time chief lawyer for Vermont-NEA, will become the union’s new executive director on Jan. 1, replacing the retiring Joel Cook.

The union’s board of directors unanimously chose Fannon after a national search. “On behalf of the entire board, I am pleased that Jeff will continue his career-long dedication to working families and his deep commitment to Vermont’s educators and students,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA president. “We look forward to Jeff’s enthusiasm for unions as he works with the board, staff, and, most importantly, the members to making Vermont-NEA the strongest advocate for students it can be.”

Fannon takes over the reins from Cook, who will retire after a 24-year career with the union.

“For the past 15 years, I have been honored to work on behalf of Vermont’s educators, helping them protect their rights, influence their profession, and securing great working conditions so that Vermont’s students can thrive,” Fannon said. “I am excited to lead a dedicated staff of people whose commitment to our members is second-to-none.”

Fannon became the union’s general counsel in 2001, after two years as a lawyer in what was then known as the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration. Before that, he was a labor attorney at Mooney, Green, Baker, Gibson & Saindon PC, a private practice law firm in Washington, DC. Prior to that, he was an attorney for the Seafarers International Union in Maryland. He is a 1994 graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, and he holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont. He lives in Adamant with his wife, Sharon Winn, and their children, Jack and Áine.

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October 24, 2016

Burlington Teachers Ratify Contract

Vote comes after union, board reached a tentative agreement that averted a strike

BURLINGTON – Burlington’s teachers today agreed to ratify the agreement reached last week with the school board that averted a strike and ensures a contract through August 2017.

“I am so proud of my fellow members,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association. “We showed that when we stand together, we can do great things. I am also pleased that we and the school board have reached a settlement that not only averted a strike, but also paved the way for all of us to work together on behalf of the city’s children.”

Details of the agreement – which replaces a set of employment policies imposed by the school board won’t be released until it is also ratified by the Burlington School Board.

# # #

 

October 19, 2016

Burlington Teachers Reach Tentative Agreement with Board, Averting Strike

Negotiators for both sides worked hard to reach deal for a one-year pact that will keep schools open

BURLINGTON – Burlington’s teachers will not go on strike tomorrow as they and the city’s school board reached a tentative agreement for a one-year contract.

“I am pleased to tell Burlington students, parents and residents that school will begin on time tomorrow morning,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association, the teachers’ union. “I know this has been a hard road, but we’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the school board.”

The details of the agreement won’t be released until it is ratified by both parties.

“This is terrific news for Burlington’s students,” Brock said. “In the end, the board shares the same deep devotion to the city’s children as we do, and our teams were able to reach an agreement that will allow us all to devote ourselves to making our schools even better for all of our students.”

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October 13, 2016

Burlington Teachers Set Oct. 20 Strike Date

Union’s last resort comes after board chose imposition over negotiation

BURLINGTON – Members of the Burlington Education Association today voted to authorize a strike beginning Oct. 20 if a negotiated contract agreement isn’t reached.

“This afternoon, we voted to authorize our negotiating team to call a strike no earlier than Oct. 20 if a negotiated settlement is not reached during our upcoming bargaining session called by the mediator,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the Burlington Education Association president. “We did not ever think it would come to this, but the leadership of the school board has decided that division, political gamesmanship and walking away and imposing employment conditions was a better course than settling during more than a year of talks.”

Brock noted that there is still a chance to avoid a strike. “Teachers take this action with thoughtfulness and sadness,” she said. “We are acutely aware that a strike is disruptive for students, families, and for the community. There is a chance to avoid this strike, and it will require the board’s negotiating team to approach our scheduled mediation with a singular desire: obtaining a negotiated contract settlement.”

Mediator Ira Lobel called both the union and the board to a negotiating session that is to begin Oct. 19.

“I pledge that members of our team, as they always have, are willing and ready to roll up their sleeves and stay at the table as long as meaningful bargaining takes place,” Brock said.

The vote to strike comes after the school board became only the 21st in Vermont history to walk away from talks and impose employment policies for the current school year. As it happens, this board also imposed employment policies faster than any of its counterparts in Vermont history.

“As the men and women who work in our city’s schools every day, our first and primary priority is teaching Burlington’s children. That’s why we sought a swift, 1-year renewal of our contract more than a year ago,” Brock said. “We thought the board shared our desire to avoid a disruption in our school year. We hope that they will do what it takes to prevent it from happening.”

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October 12, 2016

Burlington Teachers to Vote on Next Steps

Press conference will follow the members-only meeting at Burlington High

BURLINGTON – The members of the Burlington Education Association on Thursday will meet to discuss and vote on the union’s next steps. The men and women who teach Burlington’s students desire a negotiated contract for the current school year and hope the board does, too.

WHAT: Burlington Education Association members will meet and vote what will be there next steps in the current contract situation.

WHEN: Thursday, October 13 from 3:45 pm to 4:45 pm. A PRESS CONFERENCE WITH BEA PRESIDENT FRAN BROCK WILL TAKE PLACE IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CLOSED-DOOR, MEMBERS-ONLY MEETING.

WHERE: Burlington High School auditorium

WHY: The union’s members will vote on their next steps.

Editors: Brock will also address the Burlington School Board during their meeting Thursday evening at 7 pm at the Edmunds complex on Main Street.

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October 5, 2016

On This Point We Agree: A Settlement is What’s Best for Burlington’s Students

(This op-ed by BEA President Fran Brock was submitted to the state's media)

By Fran Brock

Last week, School Board Commissioner Miriam Stoll rightly said “this is a critical time for the district and we need to pull together to move forward. This fact is indisputable.”

Indeed, it is indisputable. Unfortunately, she and her fellow board members have brought us where we are today. And while we firmly believe we can reach a contract settlement for the balance of the school year, the board’s leadership continues to flex political muscle rather than seek respectful common ground.

As the men and women who work in our city’s schools every day, our first and primary priority is teaching Burlington’s children. That’s why we sought a swift, 1-year renewal of our contract more than a year ago. We also knew – as surely did the board – that the coming year will bring significant changes to the health insurance landscape, and having a 1-year contract in place would give us time to focus on the complex negotiations ahead.

Sadly, under the direction of Board Chairman Mark Porter, the board did not share our objective. Indeed, in a virtually unprecedented letter to fellow Chittenden County superintendents and board leaders, Porter asked for advice on how to beat back the union. In the letter, he claimed that Burlington’s teachers were not conciliatory, “aren’t open to discussion” and “refuse to counter.  It is clear in that letter that he never intended to sit down with our negotiating team – all of them teachers, all of them willing to compromise – and reach a quick consensus on a contract.

More disturbing is that instead of talking directly to us, he and the board have hired outside consultants – even when they claim a shortage of money. In addition to their lawyer, the board kept – or keeps, we can’t tell from the information they’ve released to the public – an anti-union consultant on retainer, to the tune of almost $22,500. They have paid at least one former superintendent $20,000 to advise in these negotiations. They have also paid an economist almost $3,600.

The board has consistently refused to release to us or to the public a complete budget; the “line-item” budget produced last week fails to show how expenses align with revenue, how they compare to budgeted amounts, or other details common in most other school district budgets.

For teachers, the lack of transparency; the objective to go after the union early in the process; and the refusal to accept the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder is troubling. Such actions and behaviors only lead to frustration and distrust within the school district and within the community.

Our original intention of having a swift round of negotiations to reach an easy settlement that would have carried most of the now-expired contract forward one year is clearly unattainable. We never left the table. We offered to take what was recommended by the fact-finder.

When the board offered to talk again, we were hopeful. But the board’s “offer” to return to bargaining is, sadly, veneer. The “offer” essentially asks us to talk about everything except salary and benefits. In other words, it isn’t an offer to negotiate at all, but another ploy to make the press and public think they really want to return to the table. They are not.

We still want a contract. We still are willing to return to the table for a true negotiation, without demeaning preconditions. There still is time for members of the board to insist its leadership change course and settle.

I know all of us care about our city, our schools, and our students. We invite the board to put an end to the charade and talk to us seriously and respectfully until we have a contract.

Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher, is the president of the Burlington Education Association. She lives in Burlington.

# # #

September 28, 2016

Burlington Teachers’ Statement on Negotiations

BURLINGTON – Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association, issued the following statement responding to the school board’s invitation to resume contract talks:

“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. A negotiation with conditions is not a true negotiation. To be clear, when the board unilaterally decided to end talks and impose an employment policy on the city’s teachers, they did so knowing that we were willing to accept the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder.

“If the board’s invitation to resume talks is sincere – and that means removing the imposition and entering into meaningful talks with us – we welcome the chance to sit down. But if the board’s chairman puts preconditions on the invitation to talk, we can only conclude that this is more about optics and bargaining by press release than on truly reaching a negotiated contract settlement.”

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September 15, 2016

Burlington Teachers Formally Reject Imposed Working Conditions

As union’s members decide next steps, the Burlington Education Association urges the board to drop imposition and return to the table and settle

BURLINGTON – The men and women who teach Burlington’s children today unanimously voted to reject last week’s imposition of working conditions, saying the board’s action will cause nothing but disruption.

“By imposing working conditions on the Burlington Education Association, the Burlington School board signaled it would rather fight with teachers than reach a settlement,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the union’s president. “There is only one way to come back from the brink, and that is for the board to rescind the imposition and reach an agreement with us.”

At the time they voted 11-1 (with one abstention) to slam the door on continued negotiations, the teachers had offered to accept all of the recommendations made by a neutral fact-finder (you can read his report here). Board members said they didn’t want to impose – some even cried in explaining their votes – but they did so anyway. Mark Porter, the board chairman, often pointing his finger at the room packed full of teachers and parents, said his vote to impose should not be taken as a slight at teachers, but at “the union.”

“I have – we have – a message for Mr. Porter and others on the board who think they can separate our union from our members: we are all the BEA,” Brock said. “It’s a classic move by people who want to break unions, but we won’t be swayed.”

The teachers have sought a one-year contract for over a year now; before the board ended negotiations and imposed working conditions, teachers and the board had been honoring the terms of the expired contract. During those negotiations, the teachers have asked to see detailed financial records of the district that would support the board’s contention that accepting the teachers’ offer would cause substantial programming cuts.

“We have been met with the same resistance to transparency as have residents and parents,” Brock said. “The board consistently tells us and the community to ‘trust us.’ We would, except that pleas for records have been met with silence.”

Just last week, the board claimed that accepting the teachers’ most recent offer would result in $900,000 in program cuts. Then the board claimed that the difference was potentially $440,000. And, just this week, we learned on Facebook, of all places, that at least one board member reports that they have spent almost $260,000 on lawyers and consultants.”

“The board’s inability to produce the type of documentation to support their assertions does nothing to build trust with us, the community and parents,” Brock said. “And, frankly, it’s insulting to assert that paying us salaries that are in the middle of pay scales for surrounding districts will hurt students. The board has signaled for months now that it would rather sow disruption than to settle.”

Brock said the union’s members are determining their next steps. “But we sincerely hope the board does the right thing here and prevent any further disruption to the school year,” Brock said. “The district is in a crisis of the board’s making even as our superintendent is forced to be out of the country for more than two weeks. All of this could have been avoided. We urge the board rescind its imposed working conditions and join us back at the table.”

# # #

August 31, 2016

Vermont-NEA Recommends Minter for Governor

Board of state’s largest union says Minter offers best hope for state’s children

MONTPELIER – Sue Minter will be a governor who will deliver a better future for Vermont’s students, schools, and communities, according to the board of the state’s largest union.

“Whether it’s her steadfast support of our local public schools, her commitment to enact more family-friendly programs, or her pledge to build a vibrant economy for all Vermonters, Sue Minter will be a governor to move our state forward,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA president. “We are proud to stand with Sue as she embarks on making this great state even better.”

Vermont-NEA’s board made its decision to back Minter after Minter completed a several-step recommendation process and delivered a strong debate performance. Both major party candidates for governor were asked to complete a questionnaire; both were invited to an interview with the board; and both participated in a live, professionally moderated debate on Aug. 22. While both candidates appeared in the debate and completed questionnaires, only Minter participated in the interview with the board.

“I am honored to have the support of the state’s largest union,” said Minter. “A core mission of my administration will be to support Vermont’s best-in-the-nation education system to ensure that the next generation of Vermonters has the best possible chance to succeed. That is why I will work to expand early childhood education and keep my Vermont Promise to provide two years of tuition-free education at Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College. As governor, I look forward to working with our teachers and education support professionals to ensure that every Vermonter has a bright future.”

According to Allen, Minter’s advocacy on behalf of children, schools, and working families stands out. She also said Minter’s support of paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, making sure Vermonters have access to affordable health care, teachers’ right to strike, and of unions is crucial to the state’s economic future.

“We are certain that Sue’s vision for Vermont is one that brings great promise,” Allen said. “We look forward to many years of working together on behalf of the state we all love. Sue’s leadership will prompt all of us to do the work we need to do in ensuring that Vermont remains the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Earlier, the board recommended other state-wide candidates: David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor; Beth Pearce for treasurer; TJ Donovan for attorney general; Doug Hoffer for auditor; and Jim Condos for secretary of state.

Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.

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August 18, 2016

Vermont-NEA Recommends Zuckerman for Lt. Governor

Board of state’s largest union says the candidate will advance the needs of children, schools and working Vermonters

MONTPELIER – The board of directors of the state’s largest union today announced its recommendation of Sen. David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor, saying he will advocate for the state’s students, schools and working families.

“Throughout his long career in public service, Sen. Zuckerman has kept the needs of working Vermonters first,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “We have always admired his principled approach. Whether it’s ensuring that all children get an outstanding public education or insisting that working men and women are treated fairly, David is consistent in his approach while never giving up the fight.”

Zuckerman, a Hinesburg organic farmer, was pleased to earn the board’s recommendation. “I have long respected and admired the work Vermont-NEA’s educators do every single day in our local classrooms,” Zuckerman said. “I am honored to have their backing, and will continue to fight for working people, for students, and for unions as lieutenant governor.”

The board of directors invited the two major party candidates to an interview, and also asked each candidate to fill out a questionnaire on issues important to Vermont’s students and educators. Both Zuckerman and his Republican counterpart, Randy Brock, participated in the recommendation process. Both were interviewed by the board last week.

“We appreciated Randy’s participation in our process, and thank him for taking the time to meet with us,” Allen said. “He, like David, has strong and consistent views on issues confronting students, schools and working people, and he was gracious enough to share those with us. In the end, David’s views are more in line with our own.”

Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.

# # #

 

August 18, 2016

Burlington Education Association Statement on Contract Negotiations

The following statement can be attributed to Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association:

It is unfortunate that the school board and its negotiating team prefer to issue press releases rather than stay at the bargaining table to reach a settlement. Instead of trying to score points in the media, Board Chairman Mark Porter and his team should be trying to reach a settlement with the men and women who actually work in our city’s schools.

We will not negotiate in the press, because contract agreements are rarely made that way. Instead, we remain focused on doing right by our students, our schools and our wonderful city. All along, we have stressed the need for the board to negotiate with us fairly, and to honor its contractual agreements. We have also stressed the need for the board to be honest and transparent with the city’s taxpayers, educators, students and parents.

A fact-finding report, issued by a neutral third-party, has been released to the board and to the association. By law, only the parties can review the report in the first 10 days of its release. We chose to honor that 10-day cooling-off period in the hopes that the board and we could reach a settlement before our contract expires on Aug. 31.

Sadly, the board is more interested in making noise in the press than it is in reaching an agreement with us. There is still time, and we implore the board to negotiate with us at the table, and not through press release.

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August 17, 2016

Minter, Scott to Spar in First Post-Primary Debate

Vermont-NEA is proud to sponsor the debate, which will be broadcast live on the stations of Vermont-PBS

MONTPELIER – The two major party candidates for governor will participate in the first debate of the general election on Monday in a 90-minute contest broadcast live on the stations of Vermont-PBS. The debate, sponsored by Vermont-NEA, will take place at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph.

“We are pleased to give Vermonters a chance to see Phil Scott and Sue Minter discuss the issues that are important to our state,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “My fellow members and I are proud to sponsor this debate, and we urge all Vermonters to tune in.”

While underwritten by the state’s largest union, the debate will be independently moderated by two journalists: Peter Hirschfeld of Vermont Public Radio and Lola Duffort of the Rutland Herald. They have been given complete editorial control, and their questions will not be shared with Vermont-NEA or the campaigns in advance. Audience members will be able to submit questions as well.

The campaigns will have tickets to distribute, and the union will also offer seats to its members.

This is the second-such gubernatorial debate hosted by the union at the Chandler Music Hall in the last 10 years. Doors will open for audience members at 6 p.m. and will close at about 6:45 p.m. The debate starts promptly at 7:30 p.m.

Press who wish to cover the event can contact Darren Allen at Vermont-NEA.

Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.

# # #

July 12, 2016

State’s Largest Union Follows Bernie’s Lead

Vermont-NEA Joins Sanders in Recommending Clinton

PORTSMOUTH, NH – Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen today joined Bernie Sanders in recommending the election of Hillary Clinton for president, saying the stakes are too high to remain divided.

“I and my union have been unwavering supporters of Bernie for decades because of his unwavering support of students, educators and all working people,” Allen said while attending the first joint campaign appearance with Clinton and Sanders here. “And now that Bernie is throwing his support behind Secretary Clinton, we believe that uniting behind one candidate is our best chance at preventing Donald Trump from becoming president.”

Bernie said that candidate is Hillary Clinton.

“Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nominating process, and I congratulate her for that. She will be the Democratic nominee for president. And I intend to do everything I can to make certain she will be the next president of the United States,” Bernie said. “Together we will continue to fight for a government that represents all of us and not just the 1 percent, a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

Vermont-NEA was the first union in the country to recommend Bernie’s candidacy more than a year ago. At the time, Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, Vt., said, “We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known. Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: he is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”

The whole country did get to know Bernie in the year since. Running an incredible grassroots campaign, Bernie helped shape the tenor and content of the Democratic contest for president. His campaign brought issues of racial and economic justice, corporate greed, and the needs of working people to the forefront. And now the best opportunity to move Bernie’s vision forward is to ensure that Clinton is elected president in November, Allen said.

“So when Bernie says that Hillary will stand up for us all – that she will give educators a voice in the future of this country – we know he means it,” Allen said. “Already, Hillary has partnered with Bernie to propose plans to make college more accessible and give more Americans a shot at affordable health care. These ideas are now part of the Democratic Party platform, and they’re a great example of how Hillary and Bernie know we’re stronger when we work together.”

Allen acknowledged that some of Bernie’s supporters aren’t yet ready to vote for Clinton.

“I know that there are many Bernie supporters who don't want to support Hillary. I have heard from ‘Bernie or Bust’ folks and those who will write Bernie in on the ballot,” she said. “I understand this temptation, but I am strongly against this strategy. We absolutely cannot lose this election. Do we want to let a narrow minded, self-centered racist and sexist hold the most powerful position in the world? Really? Do we want to let the next few Supreme Court Justices be chosen by such a man? Absolutely not. It is up to us to make sure this doesn't happen.”

Vermont-NEA was the last state affiliate of the National Education Association to recommend Clinton. Allen said with today’s endorsement, Bernie made it clear that his desire is to support Clinton, even in a state where Bernie won 86 percent of the primary vote. Today, Allen wrote an email to fellow NEA members nationwide urging the nation’s educators to thank Bernie and join him in supporting Clinton.

“We simply must vote for the Democratic candidate for president and the many down ticket candidates who are fighting for the middle class and our public schools,” Allen said. “This will only happen if we go to the polls this fall and vote for candidates who support our values and beliefs. We may have lost a battle, but we can win the war!”

Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.

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April 14, 2016

Vermont-NEA Executive Director to Retire

After 24 years with state’s largest union, Joel Cook to end career in December

MONTPELIER – Joel Cook, the long-serving executive director of Vermont-NEA, will retire in December after nearly a quarter century of service to the state’s largest union and its 12,000 members.

Cook joined Vermont-NEA in 1992 as the association’s general counsel, becoming executive director in 2000. He will end a four-decades-long career devoted to making life better for Vermont’s students, educators, seniors, working people, and Vermonters who economically disadvantaged.

“While we wish Joel well on his well-deserved retirement, we will miss his steadfast dedication to Vermont-NEA and to its purpose,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan who serves as Vermont-NEA president. “Joel’s advocacy on behalf of the women and men who work in Vermont’s schools has been as unwavering as his desire to do what’s best for our state’s children.”

Allen said the union will begin a national search for his replacement in the coming weeks. As executive director, Joel oversees a $5 million-a-year, 20-employee operation.

“I have been proud of what we have accomplished together over the years,” Cook said. “Vermont-NEA has been – and will continue to be – the state’s greatest champion of children and of the people we entrust to educate them.”

In 1975, after earning a law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law, Cook began his career in Vermont as an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid. During his 10 years there, he advocated for people with mental health problems; helped clients with welfare, unemployment and disability issues; and directed the organization’s senior citizen law project. In 1985, he joined the administration of Madeline Kunin as the director of the Vermont Office on Aging and as the first Commissioner of what is now the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. He joined Vermont-NEA in 1992, becoming executive director in 2000. During his tenure, many protections for children as well as for educators and other working people became law because of his advocacy.

“Vermont-NEA’s members and their families have benefited directly from Joel’s work over the years,” Allen said. “But Joel hasn’t advocated just for our members; he has worked just as fiercely on behalf of all working Vermonters.”

Cook lives in Charlotte with his wife Christine Cook, who was a special education teacher – and member of Vermont-NEA – for 32 years. They have three children: Shoshana, who is an attorney in Maine; Sarah, a middle school math teacher in Massachusetts; and Joshua, who is about to begin work with the Vermont Department of Families and Children.

Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.

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March 16, 2016

Vermont-NEA Urges Shumlin Administration to Settle With State Workers

State’s largest union calls for state to return to table and reach quick, fair settlement

MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont-NEA’s 12,000 members stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters of the Vermont State Employees Association in their quest to reach a fair settlement with the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin.

“As fellow public employees, we stand with the thousands of Vermont state workers who have so far been unable to convince the administration to reach a fair settlement, despite months of negotiating and compromising,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “It is long past time for the state to get back to the table. We urge the administration to do so.”

More than 4,000 state workers in three units – Non Management, Corrections, and Supervisory – have been working toward a settlement, only to be met with delays and resistance.

Earlier this month, the Vermont-NEA Board of Directors passed a resolution urging a rapid and fair conclusion to bargaining:

Vermont-NEA stands with VSEA in its desire to reach a reasonable and fair collective bargaining agreement with the Administration.  It is time for this round of negotiations to be brought to a successful and agreeable resolution.  It is also past time for the State of Vermont as a whole to come to terms with its insufficiently progressive approach to tax policy, which pits people and households, who are just trying to make things work, against each other.  It is time to adopt a thoroughgoing progressive tax structure that enables families to thrive, and our government to function well.

Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.

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March 9, 2016

Vermont-NEA Backs AG Candidate TJ Donovan

State’s largest union says Donovan’s progressive approach good for children, schools, families

MONTPELIER, Vt. – The board of Vermont’s largest union today announced its support for TJ Donovan’s bid to be the state’s next Attorney General.

“TJ brings a refreshing commitment to the state’s children and working people,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, Vt., who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “Whether it’s his successful restorative justice programs, his work to help people reinstate their driving privileges or his unabashed support of the right of workers to form unions, we are confident he will be an Attorney General who puts the interests of working families first.”

The nod marks the union’s first for a statewide candidate this election cycle; it is also the first time in more than a decade that the board has made a recommendation in the Attorney General’s race.

“I am deeply humbled to receive the endorsement of the Vermont NEA and consider it a great honor,” Donovan said. “Our educators are the backbone of our society and every day they see first-hand the impacts of government policies and social pressures on Vermont’s children and families.  I greatly value our educators’ trust and confidence in my candidacy and as Attorney General would look forward to their partnership and input.”

The board invited Donovan for a lengthy interview earlier this month, where he committed to making Vermont’s justice system fairer for working people. He told the board that as Attorney General, public safety is his top priority, and education is one of the most important pillars of public safety.

His focus on restorative – rather than punitive – justice will pay many dividends in our families, communities and schools. His pledge to help people caught in the suspended drivers’ license cycle back on the roads legally will lead to more job opportunities. And his unabashed support of unions – and respect for collective bargaining – is increasingly rare among public officials.

“When a crime is committed, a torrent of negative results erupts,” Allen said. “The impacts spread far beyond the victim and the person who committed the crime. Entire families suffer, including the children we see in our classrooms every day. We are confident that TJ’s holistic approach to criminal justice will make Vermont a better place for all of us.”

Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.

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January 18, 2016

When Montpelier Can’t Get the Math Right

By Martha Allen

(This op-ed was distributed to the news media)

It will come as no surprise that I have long opposed caps on what local communities can spend on their children’s education. Our long history of local voters, taxpayers, parents and educators coming together to determine how much to invest in their local schools has served generations of Vermonters well, giving us a public school system that is rivaled by few in the country.

Montpelier has tried – and largely stumbled – to “do something” about schools because of the notion that the public is telling them to do something (despite a long record of more than 90 percent passage of local school budgets). Last year, that something was Act 46, the school district consolidation law. To make districts want to merge, politicians claimed that the act would lead to more opportunities for more children. But another part of the law is doing just the opposite: The two-year allowable growth percentages are already causing more than 125 districts to reduce educational opportunities for students as they struggle to fit under this arbitrary spending cap.

And the kicker? Montpelier can’t even get the math right. Last week, we learned that there were mistakes in calculating the caps, meaning that most school districts were given the wrong spending limits. To some folks in Montpelier, this is nothing more than a dispute about numbers.

But to me, and my fellow 12,000 public school educators, this is a fundamentally dangerous path for our state’s children. Vermont-NEA is hardly alone in our opposition to arbitrary caps: the state’s school boards, superintendents and principals also understand that caps, in any form, are bad public policy because they always lead to shortchanging our kids.

In a list of proposed cuts recently compiled by the Vermont Principals’ Association, the breadth and depth of lost opportunities is stunning:

  • In Ferrisburgh, band will be eliminated and technology programs for students are on the chopping block.
  • At Vergennes Union High School, crossing guards, field trips, soccer, basketball and student enrichment programs are threatened.
  • In Ludlow, the theater and cross country programs will be slashed.
  • In Mill River, the cuts will affect math, social studies, English and science (at a time when the governor and others are claiming we need to double-down on math and science).
  • In other districts around the state, boards are proposing the elimination of French, arts, music, remedial math, guidance counseling services and many other programs that benefit Vermont’s students.

We testified against the spending caps (as did hundreds of educators in emails and phone calls to their legislators) for this very reason. The quality of what we can offer Vermont’s children is one of the reasons why the quality of life in our state is ranked among the best in the country. So why on earth would Montpelier actively work to decrease opportunity for Vermont’s children by weakening our schools?

Obviously, I can’t answer that question. I’ve worked my entire professional life in Vermont public schools, and I can tell you that every single educator in Vermont puts students first.

These caps should never have been signed into law, as they are having the exact effect we warned about last year when we testified against them. Even before the cap miscalculations, these caps were a bad idea. They are even more of a bad idea now.

The only math that adds up is to repeal the caps. Let those closest to our children – local school boards, parents, taxpayers, and educators – do what they’ve done for generations when it comes to making decisions about their schools.

It’s time for Montpelier to admit its mistake. For our children’s sake, let’s follow the lead of Gov. Peter Shumlin, the American Civil Liberties Union, the state Senate and many others and vote to repeal the caps now, before even more harm is done to Vermont’s future.

# # # 

October 28, 2015

Rutland Northeast Bus Drivers, Paraeducators Set Strike Date

Lower-paid school employees also intend to file unfair labor practice against boards 

BRANDON – Bus drivers and paraeducators serving the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union authorized a strike to begin on November 16.

Members of the Rutland Northeast Education Association support staff unit this evening overwhelmingly voted to strike unless a settlement is reached with the boards before November 16. They have been without a contract since July 2014, and have been working under imposed salary and insurance cost provisions since the beginning of the school year.

“For more than a year and a half, we’ve attempted to negotiate a fair contract,” said Loretta Johnson, a paraeducator who is the union’s president. “Unfortunately, instead of staying at the table, the boards destroyed years of cordial labor relations by imposing working conditions on me and my fellow members.”

Johnson said that the union chose a strike date that occurs after the completion of the fall sports schedule.   “The reason we all work here is because of our dedication to students,” she said. “We, too, are proud supporters of all of our championship-caliber sports teams.”

The union’s members also voted to authorize the filing of an unfair labor practice charge against the boards. “This comes about only after months and months of inaction by the boards,” she said.

Johnson made it clear that there is a much easier route to travel. “We ask the boards to rejoin us at the table, where we are prepared to offer a compromise proposal that would allow us all to put the imposition behind us and allow us to reach an agreement at least through the end of this year school year or beyond,” she said. Johnson also said the union would be willing to use the services of a mediator to help reach a settlement.

The working conditions imposed by the board means that most members of the bargaining unit will see raises of less than $5 a week. Most paraeducators and bus drivers make between $16,000 and $20,000 a year, and most of them are forced to work two, three or even four jobs just to make ends meet.

In fact, according to figures released by the school district, the high-priced Burlington attorney advising the boards can make as much in three hours as many of the union’s members take home in a week.

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June 24, 2015

Vermont-NEA Makes Early Bid for Bernie

State’s largest union praises Sanders’ core pro-worker principles

MONTPELIER, Vt. – The board of Vermont’s largest union today announced its support for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination for president.

“We want to let the whole country in on what we in Vermont have long known,” said Martha Allen, a K-12 librarian from Canaan, Vt., who serves as Vermont-NEA’s president. “Bernie’s core values are in line with ours: he is pro-family, pro-worker, pro-education and pro-labor and we believe the time has come for his vision to become a national reality.”

The union has long supported Bernie, citing his unwavering support of Vermont’s – and America’s – working class. His views on public education, economic inequality, and working men and women are in line with Vermont-NEA’s own values. With the board’s nod, members will begin to spread Bernie’s message, particularly to the state directly east of Vermont’s border.

“In Vermont, we’re very fortunate to have a senator who represents the middle class over the titans of Wall Street,” Allen said. “We believe that with Bernie in the White House, America’s working families will be able to flourish and grow. His ideas around banking reform, student debt, and public education are refreshing and exciting.”

Allen noted that the rest of the country is paying attention to Bernie. “Everywhere Bernie goes, he attracts over-capacity crowds,” Allen said. “His message – the same one he has had for decades – is resonating far from Vermont’s borders.”

Vermont-NEA is the state’s largest union, with members in virtually every town in Vermont. The union’s 12,000 members spend their days working with and for Vermont’s children, ensuring that they have the best schools to prepare them for happy, productive lives.

 

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March 24, 2015

Hundreds of Addison Northeast Educators Give Superintendent Failing Grade

Results of school climate survey show that majority of district’s educators have no faith in David Adams to run schools

LINCOLN – A day after an overwhelming vote of no confidence in district Superintendent David Adams, members of the Addison Northeast Education Association revealed results of a school climate survey that show wide dissatisfaction with his three-year tenure.

The survey – completed by 251 district employees – used questions taken from the Vermont Agency of Education’s General Competencies for School Administrators. The results were unequivocal across the board: the vast majority of survey respondents concluded that Adams fails when it comes to vision, interpersonal skills, collaboration, forming partnerships, fostering a safe and effective learning environment, and in dealing professionally with school personnel.

“Before this survey, we suspected that Superintendent Adams wasn’t making the grade with educators, students or the community,” said Mikaela Frank, a teacher at Lincoln Community School and president of the Addison Northeast Education Association. “But this survey made it crystal clear. David Adams has lost the support, trust and faith of nearly everyone who works for him.”

Yesterday, armed the results of the survey, members of the local union overwhelmingly voted no confidence in Adams. “What this survey shows is that there is no way that David Adams can regain the trust and faith of the district’s educators. We have no confidence in his ability to share our vision of a district that puts students and their education first.”

Some findings show that:

  • 91 percent of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that Adams helps define and articulate a vision to the school community.
  • 92 percent of respondents disagree or strongly disagree that Adams understands and effectively uses skills and strategies of problem solving, consensus building, conflict resolution, stress management and crisis management.
  • 93 percent disagree or strongly disagree that Adams works with others to define problems, examine alternatives and find solutions.
  • 86 percent disagree or strongly disagree that Adams promotes and models effective collaboration and partnerships with parents, community, social service agencies, state agencies, higher education institutions, business, and industry to support student learning.  
  • 95 percent disagree or strongly disagree that Adams models respect, understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation for all people and balances the rights of multiple and diverse groups.
  • 94 percent disagree or strongly disagree that Adams creates a learning atmosphere to encourage respect for self and others, positive social interaction, positive self and group esteem, and personal wellness.

Full survey results, along with the letter from the association to the Supervisory Union board, are available here. 

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February 11, 2015

Vermont-NEA Board Unanimously Backs Ending Philosophical Exemption in State’s Vaccination Laws

State’s educators throw support behind Sen. Kevin Mullin’s push to improve public health

MONTPELIER – The state’s largest union believes that Vermont should remove the philosophical exemption to vaccinations, saying that the state’s alarmingly large number of unvaccinated children is a threat to public health.

“We agree with our friend Sen. Kevin Mullin, who is once again trying to make Vermont safer for all of us, especially our children,” said Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen. “The fact that almost a third of our public schools have vaccination rates lower than what health officials consider safe is alarming and unacceptable in 2015.”

Mullin, a Rutland Republican who has been a long-time champion of immunizing all Vermont children, said that the time is right to scrap Vermont’s philosophical exemption. According to figures from the Vermont Department of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control, Vermont parents use the philosophical exemption proportionally more here than in almost any other state.

This week, the Vermont-NEA Board of Directors voted unanimously to support Mullin’s legislation to eliminate the philosophical exemption.

“Before vaccines, millions of children and adults were ravaged by diseases that caused great pain, permanent damage and even death,” Allen said. “And now that we are seeing the country’s worst measles outbreak since it was eradicated in America nearly 15 years ago, it’s time to make sure every Vermont child who can be vaccinated gets the protection they and society deserve.”

Nationally, the US is slipping in the percentage of children who are vaccinated; in fact, our national rate of people vaccinated against measles – 91 percent – is lower than in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. In Vermont, measles vaccination levels among kindergartners is 91.2 percent, second worst in New England and below that in most other states. And, the state health department reports, overall vaccination levels in 30 percent of Vermont public schools are below 90 percent, putting those children and educators at a greater risk of contracting diseases that have been all but eradicated for years. (Vermont’s lowest public school vaccination rate in 2013 was under 47 percent, at Windham Elementary School.)

“As the men and women who work with our children every day, we urge the Legislature to quickly pass Sen. Mullin’s bill,” Allen said. “And we urge Gov. Peter Shumlin to change his mind and sign such a bill into law. The health of Vermont’s children depends on it.”

Shumlin said that he would not favor a change in the law, arguing that it would be best to leave the current law alone. As he told Vermont Public Radio, “We have to find the balance between what we believe and individual liberties.”

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December 8, 2014

Vermont-NEA Donates More Than $12,000 to Striking Fairpoint Workers

MONTPELIER – The board of directors of the state’s largest union authorized a donation of $12,200 to the unions representing 2,000 Fairpoint Communications workers in northern New England who have been on strike for nearly two months.

“What Fairpoint is doing to our brothers and sisters is unconscionable and unacceptable,” said Martha Allen, president of Vermont-NEA, which represents 12,000 public education workers in Vermont. “These working men and women have offered millions of dollars’ worth of concessions to Fairpoint only to be met with silence and a refusal to compromise.”

Vermont-NEA’s board authorized the donation on behalf of the union’s members and locals, including the South Burlington Educators Association. “As all of us – particularly our recently-on-strike members in South Burlington – know, a strike is a last resort,” Allen said. “We implore Fairpoint to rejoin their loyal employees back at the negotiating table and stay there until a fair contract resolution is reached.”

Allen was pleased to add Vermont-NEA to the list of unions donating to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers-Communications Workers of America Solidarity Fund. “When workers strike for fair compensation, working conditions and benefits, it’s not just about them,” Allen said. “Our brothers and sisters walking the picket lines do so on behalf of all union members everywhere.” She pointed out  that the striking workers have been without pay or health insurance coverage for many weeks now.

Vermont-NEA also noted that a special CWA Local 1400 wish list on amazon.com has been established, and Allen urged union members statewide to help the children of striking workers have presents under the tree this holiday season.  The wish list has toys and other items costing less than $25.

To make a donation and to learn more about why Fairpoint workers are on strike, please visit fairnessatfairpoint.com.

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October 22, 2014

Vermont-NEA President Questions Governor’s Support of Teachers

MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin’s remarks last week about outlawing teachers’ strikes while South Burlington’s teachers were on the picket lines has the president of the state’s largest union questioning the governor’s support.

In a letter delivered today, Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen said the governor’s remarks were ill-timed and gave the impression that he was blaming teachers for exercising their right to strike. (You can read the letter here.)

“Our teachers were demoralized when they heard your words,” Allen wrote. “They were striking as a last resort and truly wanted to continue to negotiate, but the school board was not willing to continue at that time. You may be supportive of the collective bargaining process, but it appeared otherwise to our teachers and the general public.”

When members of the South Burlington Educators Association struck for the first time in the city’s history, they were exercising a fundamental right guaranteed in state law. They struck only after 11 months of failed negotiations led to an expired contract. In the middle of the strike – which ended Saturday with a three-year contract – Gov. Shumlin told media outlets that teachers’ strikes should be illegal and replaced with binding arbitration.

“When our members are walking the picket lines, the last thing they want to hear is the governor blaming them for exercising their legal rights,” Allen said. “Instead of the support I and my fellow members expect from this governor, we got a lecture. That’s not how people treat their friends, and our members have taken notice.”

The issue of replacing teachers’ right to strike with binding arbitration is an idea that is actually supported by Vermont-NEA. Indeed, then-State Senator Shumlin wrote to the union in 1999 praising it for its stance on the issue.

The problem with the governor’s ill-timed criticism of teachers was that he spared the very people who have killed binding arbitration every time it comes up: the school boards and their statewide association.

“As the head of the Democratic Governors Association, Shumlin doesn’t need to be reminded of how important union support has been to building and supporting a strong middle class,” Allen noted. Vermont-NEA and Gov. Shumlin have worked together – and effectively – on many issues, including health care reform, the preservation of the teachers’ pension system and insulating Vermont’s teachers from much of the standardized testing madness sweeping the nation.

“My union and especially my 225 fellow members who were on strike last week deserve better from their governor,” Allen said. “Right now, many of our 12,000 members are questioning the governor’s commitment to them, their profession and their union.”

 

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October 14, 2014

South Burlington Teachers File Unfair Labor Practice, Citing Board’s Stalling Tactics

SOUTH BURLINGTON – The South Burlington Educators Association today filed an unfair labor practice charge against the city’s school board, asserting that it circumvented the bargaining process by trying to negotiate directly with members and by employing stalling tactics to delay reaching a settlement.

Teachers went on strike this morning after the board wasted the last week manufacturing excuses instead of bargaining with the union’s negotiating team. The unfair labor practice charge was filed at the Vermont Labor Relations Board earlier today.

According to the filing, the board bargained in bad faith when it came to a negotiating session October 6 unprepared to respond to the union’s compromise offer. The filing also says the board unlawfully engaged in direct dealing with employees when they held an all-employee meeting yesterday to discuss their out-of-synch health care proposals.

“For almost a year, we have tried to reach a fair settlement with the board,” said SBEA Chief Negotiator Eric Stone. “At every turn, they have chosen to ignore the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder. In the last week alone, we’ve made two compromise offers only to be met with manufactured excuses of why they can’t engage in the back-and-forth necessary to reach a settlement.”

The union’s members last week voted overwhelmingly to strike beginning today if the board failed to reach a fair settlement with teachers. The union remained available to bargain for the last week; the board said it would not meet until Thursday, two days after the strike deadline.

As teachers walked picket lines for the first time in the city’s history, the board’s high-priced lawyer ordered teachers to move their cars from the public parking lot shared by the high school, middle school, library and athletic fields.

“It’s a shame that the board and their attorney have the time to order teachers out of parking lots but can’t find the time to bargain with us,” Stone said.

This is the first teachers’ strike in South Burlington’s history. The city’s teachers remain the only ones in Chittenden County without a contract.

You can read the ULP filing here. 

# # # 

October 13, 2014

South Burlington Teachers Open Strike Headquarters as Board Continues to Waste Time

SOUTH BURLINGTON – The South Burlington Educators Association today will officially open its strike headquarters in preparation for a walk-out that the school board still has to time avert.

“We’ve now made two compromise offers in an effort to get the school board back to the table and their only response is to delay,” said Eric Stone, SBEA’s chief negotiator. “We meant it last week when we said we would go on strike if an agreement isn’t reached. Instead of clearing their calendars and using the last seven days to reach a settlement, the board is seemingly more interested in wasting time.”

Union members will be opening strike headquarters at 4049 Williston Road in South Burlington. (Please use this link to get directions http://mapq.st/7-YgPxL6WV.) Stone will address the media at 3:30 p.m. today with updates on negotiations and strike plans.

“At this point, it is up to the board to prevent a disruption to the city’s schools, students, parents and residents,” Stone said. “But there isn’t much time. Let’s hope the board has enough respect for the community and students they represent to meet with us now and resolve this dispute before tomorrow morning.”

# # # 

October 12, 2014

South Burlington Teachers Send Board New Compromise Offer Despite Board’s Refusal to Meet Before Tuesday Strike Deadline

SOUTH BURLINGTON – Negotiators for the South Burlington Educators Association today responded to the school board’s latest contract offer even though the board says it can’t meet to bargain before Tuesday’s strike deadline.

The union’s latest offer is a further compromise from an offer it made last Monday, and it represents a proposal that is completely in line with recommendations made by a neutral fact-finder.

“We are beyond frustrated that the school board has decided to waste precious time rather than work with us to keep our schools open,” said SBEA Chief Negotiator Eric Stone. “The board took four days after walking out of bargaining to respond to our compromise offer last week; we’ll see how long they take to respond to a further compromise. In an era of email, Skype, telephones and many ways to communicate, it is ludicrous that the board would refuse to meet with us immediately to settle.”

The school board met with the union’s negotiating team Monday after refusing the services of a seasoned mediator who has helped settle many contract disputes across the state. The union made a compromise offer only to be told that the board was “unprepared” at that time to respond to the offer. The board’s response finally came Friday afternoon.

“We’re here and available all day today and all day Monday,” Stone said. “The board has to know that coming to a settlement before Tuesday is what’s best for the board, our schools, students, community and teachers.”

SBEA members last week voted overwhelmingly to strike Tuesday morning unless the board reaches a tentative agreement with teachers before then. South Burlington’s teachers remain the only ones in Chittenden County without a contract, despite months of attempting to reach a deal.

# # # 

 

October 10, 2014

South Burlington Teachers Receive Board's Response to Compromise Offer Four Days Late

SOUTH BURLINGTON -- The South Burlington Educators Association just received the school board's response to a compromise offer made four days ago.

"We have received the board's response, and have begun reviewing it," said SBEA Chief Negotiator Eric Stone. "Of course, we have been in our classrooms all day, and haven't had a chance to see it. It's a real shame the board wasted four long days to get back to us."

The board indicated that it would not be available to talk about their proposal again until Thursday, Oct. 16. However, the members of SBEA voted overwhelmingly to strike on Tuesday morning unless the board reaches a tentative agreement by then.

"What is the board waiting for? We are available any time between now and Tuesday to resume negotiations," Stone said. "The board needs to stop delaying and join us at the table before Tuesday."

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October 7, 2014

South Burlington Teachers Set to Strike on Oct. 14

SOUTH BURLINGTON – Members of the South Burlington Educators Association today voted to strike on Oct. 14 if the school board fails to reach a settlement before then.

“The membership is extraordinarily frustrated that our school board continues to be the only one in the county unable to reach a fair contract deal with its teachers,” said Eric Stone, the union’s chief negotiator. “They had a great opportunity to reach a settlement with us last night, when we came prepared to bargain through the night. Instead, the board walked out after saying they were unprepared to respond to our latest offer.”

Teachers have been working without a contract since the summer; they have sought a settlement with the South Burlington School Board for months, to no avail. Last night’s bargaining session was prompted after the union asked the board to enlist the services of a seasoned mediator who has settled contract disputes around the state. The board refused to use a mediator.

“The board should make no mistake: we are united, we are serious, and we are committed to reaching a settlement before next Tuesday,” Stone said. “It’s up to the board to prevent a strike. They should talk to every other board in the county if they truly don’t know how to bargain until an agreement is reached.”

The vote to authorize a strike came during a members-only meeting earlier this afternoon at the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School. More than 200 teachers participated in an informational picket before last night’s aborted bargaining session. Informational pickets are scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday.

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October 7, 2014

Teachers to Vote on Next Step in Contract Dispute

SOUTH BURLINGTON – After the South Burlington School Board walked out of negotiations last night saying they were unprepared to respond to a new contract proposal from teachers, members of the South Burlington Educators Association today will vote on their next step.

“We came prepared to bargain all night,” said Eric Stone, the union’s chief negotiator. “Instead of working with us to reach an agreement, the board’s chairwoman simply said ‘we are unprepared to make a counter-proposal.’ It is this kind of behavior that keeps us as the only teachers in Chittenden County without a contract.”

Teachers will meet this afternoon in a members-only gathering in the Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School library at 3:45 p.m. Stone will hold a press conference after the meeting – expected to be at about 4:30 p.m. – to announce what the teachers decided.

The South Burlington School Board agreed to meet with teachers last night after the union asked them to enlist the services of a seasoned, neutral mediator who has helped settle contract disputes around the state. The board refused to use the mediator, and ultimately walked out of negotiations instead of respond to the union’s latest compromise offer.

More than 200 teachers participated in an informational picket along Dorset Street before last night’s bargaining session. Informational pickets are scheduled to take place again tomorrow and Thursday.

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September 12, 2014

Rob Rober Has the Right to Be Wrong

(In this op-ed submitted to media outlets, President Martha Allen responds to an anti-union screed from the Ethan Allen Institute)

By Martha Allen

It’s always fun – in a what-will-they-come-up-with-next kind of way – to read the ramblings from Vermont’s most prolific right-wing think tank. And the latest screed from Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper doesn’t disappoint.

Waving the “results” of a “poll” done under the auspices of a national anti-union group and funded in part by a company shilling liability insurance to teachers, Roper claims that a majority of Vermonters want the freedom to join or leave a labor union, and then goes on to assert that the General Assembly’s support of workers’ real rights is “out of touch” with Vermonters.

With all due respect, it is Roper and his tired anti-worker, pro-corporation mantra (repeated from the Koch Brothers’ national pro-billionaire playbook) who are out of touch.

To begin with, workers in Vermont are free to join unions – or not join. And, believe it or not, people are free to leave unions, too. Indeed, looking into the methodology of the “polling” done as part of the laughably named “National Employee Freedom Week” reveals a two-question survey that wouldn’t pass muster in an elementary school statistics course let alone reality. The same “poll” asserts that almost a third of union members would choose to quit if they could do so while retaining the benefits won by the union – even without paying dues. (Ever ask someone if they would rather pay for something or get it for free? That’s what we’re talking about here).

Putting aside the “results” touted by Roper, let’s look to the fundamental part of his argument – that so-called right-to-work states are better for working men and women. And while Roper – in typical fashion – cherry picks information that purports to show workers better off in states that have all but obliterated unions in favor of granting enormous power to corporations and employers, the actual facts tell a far different story.

Before getting to the punch line (spoiler alert: you’re better off here in Vermont and other non-right-to-work states), let’s remember what unions did for America. The rise of unions in the private and public sectors coincided with a rise in the country’s middle class. It brought wage and hour laws; abolished child labor; instituted overtime pay; instituted due process in hiring and firing decisions; led to better pay and benefits at union and non-union shops; and was on the forefront of the greatest economic expansion the country had ever experienced. In short, unions and their members raised the standards of living of both members and non-members alike.

Sadly, the anti-worker crusaders and their acolytes like Roper have helped tip the balance in favor of corporations and away from working men and women and their families. While that crusade has had muted success in the more than half of the states – like Vermont – that do not limit the formation of unions, it is a constant reminder that without unions, workers everywhere get less.

Auditor Doug Hoffer crunched some numbers (from non-think tank sources) and found that contrary to Roper’s assertion that our elected officials are leading us in the wrong direction, union-friendly Vermont is doing well. Vermont is doing better than 21 of the 24 right-to-work states in a bunch of categories that should matter to working people: unemployment, median household income, growth in our economy to name a few. Our growth in per capita income is better than in 17 of the 24 right-to-work states; and, in the kicker, 10 of the right-to-work states lost more of their manufacturing job base than we did since 1990.

While the Vermont legislature in recent years – overwhelmingly not Republican – has been friendly to working men and women and their right to organize, it’s not because they are out of touch. It’s because they are representing the interests of their constituents, who, every other year, return them to Montpelier.

We agree with Roper in his desire for more fairness, common sense and prosperity in Vermont. (Who doesn’t?) Fortunately, he and his anti-worker brigade aren’t the ones in Montpelier making decisions that represent the real interests of Vermont’s working families.

Martha Allen, of Canaan, is president of Vermont-NEA. She writes on behalf of Working Vermont, the coalition of labor unions that represent more than 90,000 Vermonters in working families.

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August 7, 2014

State’s Largest Union Gives Nod to Shumlin, Corren

Vermont-NEA Board Says Candidates Support Working Vermonters

MONTPELIER – Vermont-NEA’s Board of Directors today recommended the reelection of Gov. Peter Shumlin for a third term while also giving a nod to Dean Corren, the Progressive candidate for lieutenant governor.

“While we have had our disagreements with the governor on issues from time-to-time, he has earned the right to continue serving the people of Vermont,” said Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen. “His commitment to making our schools the nation’s best, his support for workers and unions, and his efforts to make Vermont the first state with a publicly financed healthcare system available to all residents makes him an obvious choice.”

Shumlin, who met with the board of the state’s largest union yesterday afternoon, reaffirmed his support of issues that matter to Vermont’s working people. Despite his dangerous rhetoric about school spending that contributed to dozens of budget defeats this year,  the governor has remained a supporter of local public schools and has often called them Vermont’s very best economic development tool. He signed into law bills that give people who take care of our state’s most vulnerable the right to form unions, and he was a supporter of last year’s law mandating fair share fee payments for people who benefit from the services unions are forced to provide even to nonmembers.

The board, when weighing the differences between the Democratic incumbent and his presumptive Republican opponent, travel agency owner Scott Milne, said the choice was clear. “We do hope for a vigorous campaign, and wish Scott well on the campaign trail,” Allen said. “However, on issues that matter to our members and all working people, Gov. Shumlin is the clear choice.”

For lieutenant governor, the board easily recommended Corren. A stalwart supporter of working people for his entire career, Corren also strongly backs the formation of Green Mountain Care, giving Shumlin a powerful ally in the effort to reform Vermont’s health care system. “Dean’s leadership will be critical in the coming two years if Vermont is to be successful in doing what no other state has ever been able to do,” Allen said.

The board interviewed all four candidates yesterday. The recommendations of Shumlin and Corren round out Vermont-NEA’s statewide slate. In June, the board gave early nods to Treasurer Beth Pearce, Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State Jim Condos. The board, along with the board of the National Education Association, already recommended the re-election of US Rep. Peter Welch.

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June 30, 2014

Supreme Court Continues Assault on Working People

Vermont-NEA President Says Decision in Fair Share Case Weakens Middle Class

MONTPELIER – The U.S. Supreme Court today eroded the economic security of working families in Vermont and around the country when its conservative majority struck down a fair share fee law that resulted in an agreement between the state of Illinois and unionized home health care workers.

In the much-anticipated Harris v. Quinn case, the Supreme Court said that non-union members of the home health care bargaining unit can benefit from better wages, working conditions and contract protections that the union bargained for them without having to pay their fair share for those enhanced benefits.

“Today’s ruling is another in which the conservative majority on the court makes it harder for working families to thrive,” said Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen. “While the court thankfully left intact decades of fair share fee requirements for most unions – such as Vermont-NEA – it nonetheless weakens the middle class and jeopardizes the livelihoods of home health and child care workers.”

A similar home health care bargaining unit is represented in Vermont by AFSCME, which recently reached a contract – containing fair share fee provisions – with the state.  The Vermont law and agreement are now in jeopardy. 

Harris v. Quinn was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, whose extreme agenda is to eliminate all private and public-sector unions. The court’s majority all but invited further challenges to the decades-long practice of fair share fees.

“We are saddened at this assault on our brothers and sisters who do some of the hardest, most important jobs taking care of our most vulnerable fellow Vermonters,” Allen said. “Weakening unions does nothing but weaken the middle class. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is a sad reminder that the decades-long war on the middle class shows no signs of letting up.”

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June 11, 2014

State’s Largest Union Recommends Re-election of Treasurer, Secretary of State and Auditor

Vermont-NEA Board gives nod to supporters of state’s middle class

MONTPELIER – Vermont-NEA’s board recommends the re-election of Treasurer Beth Pearce, Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer and Secretary of State Jim Condos, calling them great friends of public education and working Vermonters.

“Beth, Doug and Jim have earned the right to continue working on behalf of Vermonters with their steadfast support of the state’s middle class,” said Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen. “Each has shown a true dedication to public education and all working people, and we look forward to working with them for the next two years.”

Vermont-NEA’s board doesn’t typically make candidate recommendations before the filing deadline, but in the case of these three statewide office holders, the board made an exception. “It really doesn’t matter who will file tomorrow for treasurer, auditor or secretary of state,” Allen said. “Beth, Doug and Jim have the unanimous support of me and my fellow board members.”

The reasons for the early nod are clear, Allen said. Treasurer Pearce was the driving force behind strengthening the teachers’ pension and retiree health benefits; Auditor Hoffer has ensured that public money isn’t wasted on programs that don’t benefit working people and pushed for protections for people who expose government waste; and Secretary of State Condos fights doggedly to ensure people have access to their government.

The board will make its recommendations for governor and lieutenant governor after the August primary. 

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May 6, 2014

Vermont Celebrates National Teacher Appreciation Week

Take a few moments to thank the teachers that made a difference in your life

MONTPELIER – National Teacher Appreciation week begins today, and to celebrate the many contributions educators make to our state, Vermonters can thank a teacher who made a difference in their lives.

“Every day, in classrooms throughout Vermont, teachers work hard to engage their students,” said Martha Allen, a 30-year veteran teacher and K-12 school librarian from Canaan who is president of Vermont-NEA. “Nothing means more to us than to watch the students we nurture become happy, successful people who never give up on learning.”

National Teacher Appreciation Week has been an annual staple in Vermont since 1964, and this year Vermont-NEA and the Vermont Agency of Education are asking Vermonters to participate in a fun social media campaign to honor the state’s more than 8,000 teachers.

“I go to work knowing our students are in good hands, and I’m thankful that my children are in Vermont schools” said Vermont Secretary of Education, Rebecca Holcombe. “Teachers provide our students with rich learning opportunities every day. Teachers instill confidence and skills, which allow students to become the architects of their lives.”

To participate in the campaign, Vermonters can join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Vine. All it takes is a short tribute – either in writing, photo, or on video – to a favorite teacher using the hashtag #ThankATeacher. Prominent state officials, fellow teachers, school board members and other Vermonters have been asked to share their memories of teachers who had an impact on them.

“My favorite teacher was my high school ancient history teacher, Mr. Gould,” Allen said. “He engaged the entire class in thoughtful discussions and made connections with each of us. We worked harder in that class than any other because we believed that our voices were heard.”

Holcombe thanked Nancy Lee. “Thurgood Marshall once said ‘None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody - a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns - bent down and helped us pick up our boots.’ My teacher, Nancy Lee, handed me a pair of boots.”

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April 5, 2014

Vermont-NEA Calls for Less Testing, More Learning

Resolution Calls for Limits to Standardized Tests While Reiterating Support of Common Core

SOUTH BURLINGTON –  Vermont should drastically reduce the frequency of high-stakes standardized testing and instead focus on student learning, delegates to the Vermont-NEA annual meeting affirmed Saturday.

“While we emphatically embrace the rigorous Common Core State Standards, we believe they should be used to improve student learning and not as an excuse for yet another punitive testing regimen,” Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen said. “When we agreed to support the Common Core, we did not sign on for son-of-No-Child-Left-Behind testing schemes.”

Delegates unanimously approved a resolution calling for the Vermont Agency of Education to adopt a new testing system that tests students in grades 4, 8 and 11 as a more rational based schedule of testing compared to our current system, which calls for testing virtually every year in every grade.

The resolution also calls on local educators’ associations to encourage their local school boards to adopt a similar position, as well as create evaluation standards and practices that drive instruction, teaching and learning.

During the roll-out of the Common Core, educators in many states have faced inadequate training and implementation; at the same time, new, unproven standardized tests have been unleashed on students. Allen said she wants to prevent that from happening in Vermont.

“We are fortunate to have an education secretary who truly understands the proper role of standardized testing, and with whom we have a great, collaborative relationship,” she said, referring to Rebecca Holcombe. “Together, we can do what we’ve always done: teach Vermont’s students so that when they leave high school, they can pursue a path that makes them happy, productive members of their communities.”

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December 9, 2013

 

Vermont-NEA Unveils Agenda for Student Success

Members of state’s largest union work every day for Vermont’s students

 

MONTPELIER – Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen on Monday unveiled the association’s agenda for student success that emphasizes rigorous standards, effective evaluation and expanded opportunities for Vermont’s public schools.

“As teachers and education support professionals, our members work every single day to ensure student success,” Allen said. “We know what it takes to motivate students, to help them learn, to push them to their highest potential. And sadly, we know what doesn’t work: more and higher-stakes standardized testing; cookie-cutter curricula that don’t take creativity into account; punitive evaluation systems; and a relentless drumbeat about the costs of public education.”

Vermont-NEA said student success will be ensured by:

  • Embracing rigorous standards that still allow us the freedom to teach in the ways that are most effective for all of our students
  • Recruiting more of the best and brightest to join us in this profession
  • Inviting and encouraging effective, rigorous and fair evaluation of our work, so that we and the entire school community can focus our efforts where it matters: on student growth
  • Adopting common-sense reforms in how the profession is regulated
  • Expanding the ability of local educators and local school boards to come up with innovative, community-specific programs that will help local students thrive
  • Collaborating with businesses in our communities in recognition that our public schools are our most important economic development tool
  • Working with advocates, parents, and social service providers to address the effects of poverty in our schools

“Educating our children is everyone’s responsibility,” Allen said. “But it is our job. It is a job we take seriously, and one that has a lasting impact on the children who will grow up to be the future of Vermont.”

You can read the complete agenda here.

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