Burlington teachers delay strike to continue discussions with board

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Burlington teachers have delayed a planned strike for Wednesday as both sides agree to continue contract discussions through a mediator. And the district says school is on. But, so far, there's still no official agreement.

"We think we're close enough that we could reach a settlement tomorrow," said Stephanie Seguino, the Burlington School Board's lead negotiator.

Seguino says a planned meeting with a mediator Wednesday could finally lead to a contractual agreement with teachers.

"We are working very, very, very hard. We are trying to show maximum flexibility. We are making ourselves available," Seguino said.

The Queen City's public educators have been fighting back against an imposed contract, an action taken by the board for the second year in a row.

"We understood that the sticking point was the operational changes at the high school," Seguino said.

"The board has to support the concept and the policy of how the day-to-day operations of something get resolved," said Fran Brock, the president of the Burlington Education Association.

Brock says other issues that have prevented a compromise include pay and health benefits. Teachers want about 1 percent higher raises over two years. And they want to cap their health care contributions at 18 percent, while the board wants 20 percent.

And despite plans to do so Wednesday, the union previously said they wouldn't return to the negotiation table unless their imposed contract was lifted.

"The spirit of that is still very much with us. And that's why-- the idea that when we go back to the table tomorrow-- that we start where we left off before the imposition," Brock said.

The board hinted at what they'll be pushing for in order to make that happen.

"If we were able to successfully negotiate a multi-year agreement, then we would rescind the imposition," Seguino said.

The union says, while hopeful, there's still a lot up in the air.

"We'll see how it goes," Brock said. "If we feel that we are coming up against another dead end, we will tell teachers we are on strike Thursday."

Last year, negotiations also ended on the edge of a strike and through a mediator. Both the board and teachers said Tuesday they want to look at improving the early negotiating process to try to prevent these last-minute scrambles.