Teachers, School Board Talk. I Wait……..

Tonight, at this hour, (8:30 p.m.) I sit in the Winooski Educational Center library, waiting for contract negotiations to conclude.

A WCAX-TV news crew waits for results of Winooski teacher contract negotiations tonight in an empty Winooski school library.

I’m told it will be a long, long wait. Maybe until morning. Thank God for the Internet, books, Power Bars and Diet Cokes, let me tell ya.

For my job at the Burlington Free Press, I must report on the fate of the talks between Winooski teachers and the city’s school board. If talks fail, there will probably be  a teachers strike tomorrow. If they succeed, well, life goes on as usual.

My life during these negotiations is definitely on hold. The meetings are behind closed doors, and I have to sit here and wait until, or if, something happens.

The teachers are in one room on one end of the school, the School Board is in another. I’m between the two rooms in the library. At some point tonight, the two parties might even leave their respective rooms and actually talk to each other.

My preparations for a long night waiting out Winooski teacher negotiations include Internet access, books, Power Bars and Diet Coke.

The federal mediator that has been called in to help is going back and forth, back and forth between the two rooms. It’s like watching a tennis match. The mediator’s name is Ed Jones, but I’ve taken to calling him Roger Federer.

I learned lessons after covering other teachers strikes in Vermont in 2006 and 2007. Internet access is easier than it was just three years ago, so I have that to play with. Thank goodness I don’t have a porn habit. I think the school district’s Wifi system would have a heart attack if I did.

From the past strikes, I also learned to bring things to occupy myself. So I have two books in case I get sick of the Web. The book I’m reading now, “The Risk Pool” by Richard Russo, is really good, so that’s a plus that will help get me through this marathon.

I will definitely get hungry as the night progresses, so I have easy to open and eat Power Bars to get me through the night. Diet Coke will keep the caffeine humming.

One thing I never understood about last ditch teacher contract negotiations is why they go on so long in one night. This might go until 5 a.m., and I will need to stay here until then to put it up on the Burlington Free Press Web site when it concludes.

How can they focus after several hours? I mean, by midnight, they’ll be punchy, since this started at 6:30 p.m. If they’ve made progress, they could call it a night, delay a decision to go on strike, negotiate more in a couple days and straighten everything out.

No, they will plow on overnight, just as they did during the 2006 Colchester teachers’ strike, where I spend many nights cooling my heels in a hotel hallway while the negotiators battled away until the wee hours.

Frankly, I think they should just bring in some booze and let the negotiators get totally schnockered. Then, either they will end up hugging each and singing “Kumbaya” or the knives will come out and they’ll kill each other. Either way, you get a resolution to this situation.

You’d think the differences between the two sides can easily be worked out. The School Board wants to give the teachers a 1.65 percent pay increase. The teachers want a 3.3 percent hike. Geez, find the number in the exact middle, settle on that and go on.

But then, what do I know? I have trouble haggling at garage sales.

My dispatches to the Free Press Web site will surely be interesting if things go until the break of dawn. Not because this situation is that riveting. It’s just that I get, uh, creative when I’m really tired, so I’m not entire sure my morning story will make much sense.

My friends have been remarkably supportive of me as I told them I would sit here most of the night. One person offered to drive down and give me back rubs. Another grabbed Raid wasp spray off his shelf and told me to bring that, to light a fire under the negotiations.

But I’ll survive. However, a warning: If you’re a teacher or a School Board member somewhere in northwestern Vermont, you’d better settle your differences before I get involved. I can get cranky when this happens too often.

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