BARRE – It's not yet a done deal, but a negotiating session that began early Thursday evening and ended after midnight today produced a “tentative agreement” between three local school boards and the teachers they employ.
According to Norma Malone, chairwoman of board responsible for running Spaulding High School, negotiators must meet one last time to “iron out the details,” but the framework for Barre's first-ever supervisory union-wide teachers' contract has been established.
“We have reached a tentative agreement with teachers,” she said.
Malone declined to discuss the terms of a proposed contract, which, she said, will be the subject of a yet-to-be-scheduled once-over by representatives of both negotiating teams.
However, she said the proposed contract was the product of a “productive and respectful” bargaining session that started at 6 p.m. in the high school library and ended more than 6 1/2 hours later.
Malone said negotiators were able to make “steady progress” as they talked through the night, but chose not to credit a recently delivered and soon-to-be-public fact-finder's report for a breakthrough in a negotiations process that started more than a year ago.
“I'm not going to offer any comment on the fact-finder's report,” she said.
Both unions – the Barre Education Association and the Barre Town Education Association – must ratify the agreement, as must members of the Barre, Barre Town and Spaulding school boards.
That process will presumably play out over the next couple of weeks, according to David Ferch.
Ferch, the Barre Town teacher who has served as the designated spokesman for both unions, said the late night Thursday was well worth it now that a mutually agreeable end to a protracted and occasionally contentious process is in sight.
“It feels really good,” he said.
Like Malone, Ferch said he was unable to discuss the details of the proposed contract at this time. He said they would be shared with teachers from Barre City Elementary and Middle School, Barre Town Middle and Elementary School, Spaulding High School, and the Spaulding-based Barre Technical Center at a meeting next Wednesday.
Ferch predicted the terms of the tentative agreement would be well-received.
“We were able to reach a deal that we feel the boards are happy with and we believe the teachers will be happy with,” he said.
Ferch said negotiators were able finally able to come to terms on the financial aspects of the contract, but the complexity associated with merging two distinctly different salary schedules remains a piece of unfinished businesses.
“We agreed to percentages … but making it work on paper is going to require two smart people sitting over a computer and making it happen,” he said, noting that the proposed pay raises were consistent with those afforded teachers in neighboring school districts.
According to Ferch, momentum for reaching a settlement built during the course of the evening as it became clear to both sides that they would likely be able to find comfortable common ground. “It was exhilarating,” he said. “I know we (union negotiators) felt energized.” Ferch said the fact-finder's report, which was authored by mediator Bonnie McSpiritt and outlined a potential settlement was “useful.”
“Any time you get a document like that (fact-finder's report) it helps focus your attention,” he said, stressing the agreement that was ultimately reached was “between the boards and the teachers.”
Although much of the focus has been on the predictably contentious financial aspects of the proposed contract, Ferch said that is only part of a bigger picture.
“One of the things we're really pleased about is teachers thinking about how education can continue to improve in Barre,” he said. “We're proud of the stands we've taken to help make that happen.”
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