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The Associated Press March 3, 2011, 8:21AM ET

Teachers in Vt.'s South Burlington vote to strike

Saying they'll walk if they have to, teachers voted Wednesday to strike if school board negotiators don't resume talks and reach a settlement.

"Let me be clear: It is not too late for the board to prevent a walkout," said Richard Wise, a spokesman for South Burlington teachers. "And we hope the board, including its newly elected members, will call us before (March 9) and work until an agreement is reached."

More than 200 members of the South Burlington Educators Association crowded into a middle school library and emerged about an hour later after a unanimous vote, saying they would strike March 9 unless talks resume and lead to an agreement. The union represents about 275 people.

The move came about eight months after the union's last contract expired,and two weeks after the school board imposed a contract on teachers in the five-school, 2,400-student district.

The board, which met later Wednesday, didn't indicate what its next step would be. Instead, it swore in two new members who were elected in Town Meeting Day votes a day before and heard from members of the public before retiring to executive session to discuss the teacher contract in private. No action was planned on it Wednesday night, according to Superintendent John Everitt.

"There's no reason to crush this community," said Mark Dickinson, a father of two school-age children who was among 60 people to turn out for the meeting.

"Do not tear this community apart,'" said another, Philip Soltau. "And you can prevent that by simply returning to the bargaining table."

Whether the board's changing membership would be enough to break the impasse was unclear.

At issue, according to the union, is the school board's push to not honor salary schedules in the event that no contract agreement is reached.

"This is not about salary or benefits," said Wise, speaking outside the library in a hallway at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School after the vote, with dozens of the teachers standing behind him. "The issue here is one of ideology. The board simply wants to have the option to let our contract expire and then not have to honor previously negotiated salaries. The issue is one of principle."

Parents arriving to pick up their children at the school complex Wednesday were eager for a resolution.

"If it lasts long, it'll be disruptive for everybody," said Keith Toutant, 54, the father of an eighth-grader and a high school senior.

He said he thinks teachers are paid well and are lucky to have what they have.

"I think it would be a sad thing for everybody all around, particularly the kids," said Joe Arioli, 59, whose daughter is in the eighth grade. "Anytime a child is unable to complete the school year or miss part of it, it makes it more difficult for them. "

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