While school directors and teachers in Georgia await a delayed fact-finding report due now in two weeks, the sides disagree about what contract issues remain to be resolved.
At issue is the salary schedule. The board previously suggested eliminating the current system, which rewards teachers for additional education and experience.
Superintendent Ned Kirsch said the school board dropped its request to change the salary schedule last month, prior to hiring the fact-finder, and that teacher concerns about it are no longer warranted.
However, Brad King, president of the Georgia Education Association, said the schedule is still a sticking point. He thinks the board wants to eliminate it and hasn’t seen a clear offer otherwise.
Georgia and the two other Franklin West Supervisory Union schools entered teacher negotiations in fall 2011. Fairfax and Fletcher reached agreements with their staff, but Georgia teachers are still working under terms of the old contract, which expired June 30, 2012.
Negotiations eventually entered mediation. When that failed, the sides agreed to have a fact finder examine proposals and suggest a compromise. The fact finder may also examine contracts in nearby schools to determine what is typical of the region.
Teachers across Vermont are paid on a step system in which they advance either as a result of increased seniority or by acquiring more education.
For example, a first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will earn $32,000 per year; that increases by $4,800 with a master’s degree. The teacher with a bachelor’s will max out salary steps after eight years, where it takes a teacher with a master’s degree 19 years.
Teachers also earn more with additional coursework, even if they don’t earn a degree. The school pays for six graduate credits or comparable work per year, nine credits if the teacher is enrolled in a master’s degree program.
“People know they need to press on and learn more and become better teachers,” King said of the current system.
The board’s proposal eliminated this possibility, King said; instead, they would receive annual negotiated, percentage raises across the board. The “zone system” would award teachers for additional hours worked.
“It affects new teachers more drastically than people who’ve been here a long time,” King said, because their salaries are lower.
Losing the salary schedule would “drastically limit your ability to earn a living and have a career,” King said.
“The big difference [in negotiations] has been not over money, but over philosophy,” he added. “It was about how the money was going to be distributed.”
Teacher pay is not directly connected to job performance, but teachers are evaluated regularly. At Georgia, teachers set specific goals connected to the individual development plan that is part of their license and to the supervisory union’s action plan.
Underperforming teachers are placed on an action plan, and if they fail to improve, they can be dismissed, King said. It is a “myth that once a teacher is embedded in a school it’s hard to get rid of them,” he said.
Under the current contract, new hires get a two-year probation and can be fired without a chance to file a grievance.
King reiterated an argument at the Tuesday, March 12 school board meeting that Georgia teachers are one of the lowest paid in the area, especially compared to Chittenden County faculties.
Gabe Coleman, GEMS physical education teacher for eight years, warned the board about the risk of becoming a start up school: “We want our dedicated teachers to stay in Georgia,” he said.
Katie Lovejoy, Georgia parent and a teacher elsewhere, said information released by both sides shows a strained relationship.
“Teacher compensation is always a difficult issue,” she said. In prior years, Georgia teachers have agreed to go without raises. “It’s difficult for me to believe teachers are being unreasonable,” she added.
King said the parties don’t trust one another.
“The only hope we’ve had is the new board,” he said. Two new members – Kate Barnes and Ben Chiappinelli – were elected to the five-person board on Town Meeting Day. The board also has a new chairman, Carl Laroe.
Superintendent Kirsch spoke up for the school board: “They want to find an agreement,” he said. “I’m really optimistic that once the fact-finder’s report comes out, we’ll be able to reach an agreement.”
Kirsch added he doesn’t think either party is being unreasonable.