Vicksburg schools, union, reach agreement

By Jef Rietsma

An agreement between Vicksburg Community Schools and the Vicksburg Education Association dealing with changed working conditions due to COVID-19 will provide an extra $1,000 and three more sick days with pay for the school year ending in June.

The agreement ended months of negotiations.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said the agreement was “totally appropriate.”

“It definitely wasn’t just Vicksburg, it was all across many public school districts to get an agreement – whether it was financial working conditions, agreement to work in a hybrid, to teach virtual – anything that was a change to what we would consider a normal teaching duty,” O’Neill said. “Yes, absolutely appropriate; I couldn’t be any happier that we finally did reach an agreement. On top of that, when the vaccinations came out, it relaxed everybody.”

He said the process of ironing out the letter of agreement started last summer and continued through the end of January, with multiple proposals going back and forth. The agreement was completed in early February. Its provisions were announced at the March meeting.

Completing his third year as Vicksburg superintendent, O’Neill said the agreement required the services of a state mediator. He said the process was good for both sides and drastically helped expedite the pact.

“At this point, we’ll start looking forward to the fall, try to figure out what that’s going to look like and what we have to get done from now until then,” he said. “It’s difficult to predict, of course.”

Kelly MacDonell, VEA secretary, said the agreement included a provision for the district to provide staff with personal protection equipment needed to clean desks and classrooms.

“The [agreement] also extended the Families First Coronavirus Response Act paid leave for staff members who contract or must quarantine due to COVID-19,” she said. “Staff members are grateful to be vaccinated. However, we are still concerned about transmission between students and home to unvaccinated caregivers.”

She said secondary and intervention staff continue to sanitize classrooms between every class period – more than eight times daily.

MacDonell said it was also important to the VEA to include language that teachers will continue to be compensated for their work on extra-curricular clubs and events.

“Many teachers are finding safe and creative ways to complete the activities the community has come to enjoy such as yearbook, band and musicals,” she added. “The VEA is still awaiting judgment on whether the changes to our working conditions to teach virtual and in-person students at the same time violates our contract.”

Besides the additional pay and paid sick days, the agreement includes a stipulation that a teacher may choose to work remotely but is not required to.

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