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Online Posts Create Tension in School Committee/BEA Negotiations

There was some tension at last week’s School Committee meeting around continued negotiations between the committee and the Burlington Educators’ Association (BEA) about information being put online about the talk around negotiations.

Member Martha Simon, who is part of the subcommittee along with Member Christine Monaco, said they had concerns about some social media posts surrounding the situation.

“We are concerned that only partial and sometimes inaccurate information is being shared with the community,” she said. “Thus, we’d like to share these comments with you tonight.”

Simon said the subcommittee had spent “many hours engaged in meaningful discussion since last spring and it concerns me to see what the BEA is communicating to the public stating that we are not holding meaningful discussions. The BEA and the SC have both proposed changes to the school day and year to better support student learning and staff development. We don’t understand why they are saying that we are not.”

Specifically, Member Simon said she rejected to comments posted on Facebook that teachers in Burlington had not received raises since 1997.

“We have made it clear that we understand how hard they are working and how much we respect them,” she said. “If nothing else, this is evidenced by our salary schedule relative to other districts. We are adjusting for the pandemic as we proceed, but we can’t negotiate a contract for the future based on the conditions of the pandemic that will tie our hands after the pandemic. BTW – the teachers have received a raise every year since 1997, and before.”

Member Monaco said she also believes negotiations would benefit from being conducted in private sessions rather than online.

“We want nothing more than a fair contract,” she said during the meeting. “We’ve been working very hard with many meetings since late winter to negotiate this contract and the MOAs because of COVID. One of the things I’m finding somewhat difficult is that there has been a lot of negotiating on Facebook or social media. At the next meeting with the teachers I would like to know how the union leadership feels about all of the posting on Facebook. A lot of what is being said is inaccurate. It’s hard not to respond when something is blatantly inaccurate. For example, someone posted that our teachers have not had a raise since 1997. I think it’s pretty clear they wouldn’t be in the top 5 percent of teachers paid in the state if they hadn’t had a raise since then.”

Both members said they want what is best for the district.

“The SC has a responsibility to support our teachers, and also a responsibility to support our students and families,” Simon said. “We may not agree that all of their requests are in the best interest of our students or the community, although we know that, in general, what is good for teachers is good for the students.”

BEA President Patrick Murphy said the union is also committed to the district and representing educators in the best way possible. He also said the union had not encouraged members to muddy the waters with inaccurate information online.

“The Burlington Educators’ Association is committed to working hard for the contract that educators deserve, and we are working toward what members have told us is important to them for our students and our schools,” he wrote. “We have engaged our membership in contract actions – and transparent information on these actions has been sent to our full membership. None of our contract actions has involved encouraging our members to post information and complaints about the process online. I am not familiar with what these comments may be or even where they would have been posted. We cannot vet comments posted online, be it from a member or someone else in the community. We will continue to work diligently and in good faith to achieve the goals that our members have informed us are important to them.”