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Vt. Bill To Create Statewide Bargaining Unit Assailed

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A Vermont proposal to establish a statewide system of teacher salaries and contract negotiations has run into vehement opposition from the state's largest teachers' union.

The proposal, introduced last week by Speaker of the House Ralph G. Wright, is expected to be the chief vehicle for legislative action this year on efforts to relieve local school districts' heavy reliance on property taxes.

The bill comes in the wake of recommendations released by two education-finance commissions that proposed a number of alternatives to property-tax-based school funding, including local income taxes and expansion of the property-tax base to include vacation homes and nonresidential property. (See Education Week, Jan. 20, 1993.)

Mr. Wright's bill calls for lowering local property taxes and introducing a broad-based statewide tax. The as-yet-unspecified tax would provide funding for consolidation of all public school teachers into one statewide bargaining unit.
Mr. Wright argues that the move would reduce the time and money spent by local districts on teacher salaries and contract negotiations.

Impact on Salaries Feared

But the Vermont-N.E.A. warns that the proposal, which calls for "funding equity according to a statewide salary level,'' would cause teacher salaries to plummet and nullify teacher-benefit gains accumulated over the past 25 years.

Marlene R. Burke, the president of the union, said she decided to formally oppose the bill after receiving telephone calls from hundreds of angry union members.

In the past two weeks, union members have attended public hearings to denounce the Speaker's plan and showed up at a press conference by Gov. Howard Dean to voice their opposition. Union mailings will encourage members to lobby the legislature.

"There is no logical link between teacher salaries and property-tax reform,'' said Ms. Burke.

The union president suggested that Mr. Wright may have appended the teacher-contract provision to his bill to give the property-tax issue more clout.

Glen Greshanik, a spokesman for Governor Dean, urged union members not to allow the statewide bargaining debate to "sidetrack'' them from the main issue of property-tax reform.

"There's finally momentum to solve this problem,'' Mr. Greshanik said. "But if we spend all our energies on non-essentials, it may be another 15 years before we act on the issue.''

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