BARRE — The looming launch of the Barre Unified Union School District should be a pleasantly peaceful transition for nearly 400 unionized instructional staff and the school board that will soon employ them.
Superintendent John Pandolfo said tentative settlements were recently reached in contract talks with 280 unionized teachers and 110 paraeducators employed at elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town, Spaulding High School and the Spaulding-based central Vermont career center.
Pandolfo said the unions have done their part – ratifying the one-year agreement on May 29 and the board of the merged district is expected to follow suit when it meet next Thursday.
Until then, Pandolfo is keeping details of the settlements under wraps.
During meetings on back-to-back nights this week Pandolfo privately briefed school directors from Barre Town and Spaulding High School on the proposed contract and he will do the same during Monday’s meeting of the Barre City School Board.
None of those boards will be asked to ratify the proposed contracts because all three will cede operational authority of their currently autonomous districts to the new merged board on July 1. That latter board will have the final say capping a process that started in January and is comfortably on track to conclude before the current contracts expire on June 30.
Though the board didn’t exist when negotiations began, four of its nine recently elected members participated in the final bargaining sessions.
Pandolfo said two of them – Sonya Spaulding and Tim Boltin – served on the initial three-member negotiating team that included Barre Town School Director Jay Paterson. Boltin represents Barre on the Spaulding board and Spaulding is chairwoman of the Barre City School Board. Both were elected to the unified board in April and were joined on the negotiating team by its chairman Paul Malone and Gina Akley, while Paterson stepped aside. Both Malone and Akley, live in Barre Town.
According to Pandolfo the settlements were concurrently negotiated with teachers and paraeducators over several sessions and reflect a number of what he characterized as “relatively minor changes,” unspecified new money for wages and a decision to mostly steer clear of health insurance.
Pandolfo said details of the contracts would be made public after it has been ratified by the board.
The duration was never a mystery. State law that dictates a shift to new statewide health insurance plan for educators on July 1, 2020 and required any newly bargained contracts to expire at that time.
In Barre that required negotiating a pair of one-year contracts to replace the two that were expiring.
Pandolfo said he expected the contracts would be easily ratified by the board.
“We left the final meeting with the board’s negotiators satisfied with the outcome and excited to have it done before the contracts expire and the merger begins,” he said. “It’s one less thing to worry about.”
Wrapping up negotiations ahead of schedule is a welcome change in Barre.
Teachers are coming off a two-year contract that wasn’t ratified until seven months after the earlier agreement expired. Those negotiations spanned 15 months and included a failed attempt at fact-finding sandwiched in between two marathon mediation sessions.
Paraeducators have now ratified their third straight one-year contract, though this one should seamlessly replace current agreement. That wasn’t the case last year when the paraeducators’ contract expired nearly two months before a successor agreement was ratified.
While the Barre, Barre Town and Spaulding districts are all merging into one, Pandolfo said the unions are also consolidating.
The Barre Education Association has historically covered teachers and paraeducators in the Barre and Spaulding districts, while the Barre Town Education Association’s members include teachers at Barre Town Middle and Elementary School and there is a separate bargaining unit for Barre Town paraprofessionals.
Pandolfo said the new contracts will have two signatories – the Barre Unified Union School District and the Barre Educators Association.