Teacher Negotiations With School Board Not Public Meeting Says Vermont Supreme Court

Transparency Advocates Disappointed

Collective bargaining negotiations between the Norwich School Board and the teachers were conducted in public last year. I thought that was refreshing, particularly as the contract offers and counteroffers made by the parties were public. That practice will not be repeated next contract, because the Vermont Supreme Court ruled this week that negotiating sessions are not public meetings subject to the Open Meeting Law.

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The NEA was against open sessions. VTDigger reports: 

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court reached the same conclusion we have: that the Open Meeting Law was never intended to force public bargaining,” said Rebecca McBroom, lawyer for the Vermont NEA.

If contract talks were considered meetings, school boards would have sole authority to decide when to go into executive session, and who could be present, which would put teachers at a disadvantage, the court said, adding that the Legislature “clearly” wanted teachers, school administrators and school board members to have equal authority.

“This is a good ruling for labor relations,” McBroom said. “It means that local educators and local school boards can have robust and productive contract talks as equals at the table.”

The executive session rationale is puzzling because the union as a non-public body is not bound by the Open Meeting Law and can meet in private whenever it wants. 

The decision Negotiations Committee of Caledonia Central Supervisory Union v. Caledonia Central Education Association, 2018 VT 18 is available here

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