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No School: South Burlington Teachers Strike Tuesday

School is canceled on Tuesday in the South Burlington School District, where teachers will begin a strike after months without a contract.

Martin LaLonde, the clerk of the South Burlington School Board, said in an interview that the most recent exchange of proposals hinged on the teachers' health care benefits. An earlier proposal by the board made changes to the health care plan that teachers objected to. In its most recent offer, LaLonde said the board left the health care plan untouched, but made some changes to teacher pay and the amount teachers pay of their health care premiums.

The major point of contention, though, has nothing to do with the contract.

"I guess the main issue appears initially to be when the two parties are going to meet," LaLonde said.

When teachers announced the strike last Tuesday, they expected a new offer from the board quickly. When the offer came in on Thursday, teachers publicly decried the board for the delay. The teachers sent a counterproposal over the weekend, but the board won't act on it until after the strike deadline.

"The thing is that we are unable to have the entire board there for a negotiation session until Thursday," LaLonde said. Both he and board chair Elizabeth Fitzgerald have repeatedly said that the community is best served when the entire board is present.

The teachers, though, say the board is wasting time.

In a news release Monday, the teachers' chief negotiator Eric Stone made no effort to be diplomatic:

“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.”

But LaLonde said the teachers have "completely manufactured" a crisis where there doesn't have to be one, and suggested that they push back the strike date.

The result: Unless the teachers change their minds, schools (both for classes and extra-curricular activities) will be canceled in South Burlington until at least Thursday, which is the soonest the board will agree to meet.

In an email to parents and guardians Monday afternoon, superintendent David Young said school will be closed "until further notice."

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