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No deal yet in sight for Windham Northeast teachers, district

Talks scheduled to resume on March 29

BELLOWS FALLS—A recent round of contract deliberations between the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union and the Windham Northeast Education Association has ended without a deal.

Windham Northeast teachers have been working without a contract since the previous three-year deal expired on June 30, 2011.

WNESU Superintendent Chris Kibbe said last week that another bargaining session is scheduled for Tuesday, March 29.

“The sides started far apart,” said Kibbe, “and we’ve closed some of that distance, but we still have some distance to go.”

While the negotiations went on at the supervisory union’s offices on Cherry Street on Feb. 3, teachers staged a one-hour informational picket that day to urge the district’s boards to reach agreement on a contract.

“We must stop spending money on a protracted negotiation process and instead put the money into investing in our schools through a settlement that is fair to us, fair to our communities and good for our students,” said Erica Moody, a teacher at Bellows Falls Union High School and a spokeswoman for the Windham Northeast Education Association, in a news release.

The union represents more than 170 teachers at schools in Bellows Falls, Athens, Grafton, Rockingham, Saxtons River, and Westminster.

Moody said that it is long past time for the boards to stay at the table and negotiate.

According to Moody, a neutral third party issued his assessment of the sides’ offers and, while the teachers have made concessions, the boards are not engaging in the same give-and-take.

“We urge the boards to reach a settlement with us now,” Moody said. “While we’ve been in the classrooms without a contract for seven months, our patience is not without limitation.”

Stephen Fine, the WNESU representative to the board’s negotiating committee, said last week that negotiations have been more difficult this time due to the combination of a sluggish economy and the aftereffects of Tropical Storm Irene.

“The contract the teachers are now working under was negotiated in 2008, before everyone knew the extent of the economic downturn,” he said. “The teachers did quite well under that deal.”

“But the fact of the matter is that even before Irene, Rockingham had trouble passing their budgets, and the union refused to offer some relief,” Fine continued.

Every town in Windham Northeast suffered extensive damage from Irene, Fine said, and those towns will likely be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses that state and federal government will not reimburse.

“The union is totally ignoring the burden that towns are facing after Irene,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #139 (Wednesday, February 15, 2012).

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