By Lee J. Kahrs
BRANDON — We have a deal.
The Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union and the Otter Valley and Rutland Northeast teachers have agreed in principle to a new one-year contract.
The two sides came to an agreement at a Jan. 28 meeting after several often contentious negotiating sessions. The rather speedy agreement is a refreshing change from the paraeducators’ and bus drivers’ contract dispute with RNeSU last year, which lasted 18 months and nearly resulted in a strike. The two sides came to an agreement last November, just before the teacher’s and the supervisory union began their negotiations.
The new one-year contract includes a 3.5 percent pay increase and an increase from 12.5 percent to 13.25 percent in health care contributions from the teachers.
Jim Rademacher, chair of the RNeSU Negotiations Committee, said Tuesday that each side had its sticking points but they are looking ahead.
“It’s good news,” he said of the agreement. “The board is certainly appreciative of the teachers and of what they do.”
The board stuck to its need for a one-year contract in light of changes under the federal Affordable Care Act to the way health insurance is delivered to Vermont teachers. The ACA is requiring that the Vermont Education Health Initiative, an insurance cooperative that offers health plans to public education employees in Vermont, restructure how those health plans are offered.
Rademacher said once RNeSU knows what the changes will be, a multi-year contract is more likely in the future.
“(The teachers) wanted a multi-year contract and so do we,” he said, “but with all the uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act, the board couldn’t do that. We’re looking forward to working on what will hopefully be a multi-year contract next year.”
The members of the Otter Valley and Rutland Northeast Association of the Vermont NEA will have to ratify the tentative agreement. Each town’s school board will still have to approve the contract as well. The OV Board approved the agreement at a Feb. 3 meeting, Rademacher said.
Jamie Gallagher is the chair of the OV and RNE Teacher’s Association Negotiating Committee said he is satisfied with the agreement.
“It was what we expected,” he said. “It’s a process. It’s not necessarily an easy process, but it requires both sides to give a little bit, which we did, and that’s what a contract is.”
“I’d say when we really had a deal, there were smiles on both sides,” he said. “When we look at the numbers, we grit our teeth a little bit, but I guess when both sides feel the same way, that’s pretty good.”