School Salary: “There are many different kinds of bargaining” -Kara Rosenberg

This article was written by a Journalism student here at U-32, Nolan Lyford.

Have you ever wondered how teachers get paid and who determines how much they are paid?  Unlike many other lines of work, teachers have to regularly negotiate their salaries with the school board.  Different school districts negotiate salaries in different ways – Washington Central Unified Union School District, “WCUUSD” teachers negotiate using something called Interest Based Bargaining (IBB). 

“There are many different kinds of bargaining,” said Kara Rosenberg who has been on the negotiating team since 2017. Kara is also an English teacher here at U-32. One bargaining technique is traditional bargaining (or adversarial bargaining). Traditional bargaining involves each side developing specific positions that benefit their constituents and then bargaining. This looks like explaining, talking, and trading any acceptable changes to the contract.

“Usually in traditional bargaining there are two teams, union and board with the board having their lawyer present, and the only people to speak are the board’s lawyers and the lead negotiator. When others want to speak, they have to call for a caucus, in which both sides retreat to private rooms and talk among themselves,” said Kara. 

Another way to go about bargaining a contract is Interest Based Bargaining.  IBB has a slightly different approach. “Each side identifies areas for improvement in the contract and then we discuss the interests of everyone in the room and potential solutions. For an analogy, a position in a family might be that your bedtime is 9pm but the underlying interest is that you get enough sleep. In IBB, we try to focus on the underlying interests. It doesn’t always work smoothly, but we try. One huge difference is that anyone in the room can talk,” said Kara. 


Photo of team negotiating (taken by Michel Sherwin)


“What we love about IBB is that you come to a consensus together. You are not trying to harm each other, and it takes the power away from either group. In theory you will have a shared understanding of each other’s interests and take out personalities or positions. Both staff and the school board want what is best for kids so they try to keep that at heart while they negotiate their interests,” said WCUUSD Board Chair, Flor Diaz-Smith. 

The IBB process takes roughly 6-8 months if the contract is settled through the IBB process. The length of a negotiated contract can vary anywhere from 1 – 5 years, depending on how long the negotiating team wants to run the contract for. “Generally, the longer the contract length, the riskier salary negotiations (for both the union and the board) can be because it’s hard to predict so far what will be happening with the economy,” said Kara.

According to Flor, this current negotiation cycle began on September 7, 2022 with the board submitting an intent to negotiate letter. On January 23, 2023 they kicked off their first meeting and are still in negotiations today. 


 Photo of the team (taken by Michel Sherwin)


Salary isn’t the only thing that’s negotiated during negotiations, though. Representatives from the teacher’s union who serve on the negotiation committee also negotiate other parts of the teachers contract. “If I have to guess, the context in general in the state of VT is that we are still looking at teacher shortages, high cost of living, high cost of health care, not enough housing, not enough affordable housing, lack of childcare… etc.,” said Flor.  One item being negotiated this year relates to Family Leave, which looks like taking off time to care for family members.

 Another negotiation is Seniority. “Seniority is the process that will be used to determine who will be laid off when there’s a reduction in force (RIF) in the district or in our schools, and details related to donating sick leave to other teachers in the district. Negotiating the length of our school year for teachers is another part of this year’s negotiations,” said Jen Ingersoll. This is Jen’s first year on the negotiation team. Jen is also a literacy coach here at U-32. 

“Contracts define working conditions,” said Kara. “This looks like how much sick time you get, how many days teachers work each year, whether or not you are guaranteed a lunch break without students to supervise, how many classes you teach and how much of your time is divided into your schedule, like in between teaching classes, meetings, duties and prep time.” 

The contract also outlines what the process looks like if the union “grieves a practice.” “Grieves a practice means the union says that something a teacher is asked to do goes against their contract,” said Kara. It also states that teachers are evaluated by their supervisors, and what happens if the district has to lay off teachers. “These things are just as important as salary because they determine what a teacher’s work day, work week, and work year is like,” said Kara. 

You might wonder how negotiations end and what happens if both parties can’t come to an agreement. That doesn’t happen often, though it may. “Usually it ends in compromise from both parties,” said Kara “Rarely does one party get everything that they want.” 

Sometimes when both sides can’t come to an agreement they have to do what’s called a declaring impasse. “This means that you are no longer able to make progress on negotiations, or, in other words, neither side feels able to move from their position. At that point, both parties engage in mediation, during which a neutral mediator tries to help the parties come to an agreement,” said Kara. 

In negotiations, “it is important to do your homework and understand both sides’ interests and look at each other with empathy. Both sides need to be good listeners and work together in order to focus on issues and interest to come to tentative agreements that lead to an agreement that everyone’s interests are met. We love our teachers and our students. We have the best interest and a duty of care for both at the heart of our decision making in negotiations and in all of our everyday decisions,” said Flor.

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