By Lisa Loomis and Tracy Brannstrom

The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) administration and representatives of the school district’s support staff association have agreed to accept the recommendations of the fact finder tasked with reviewing each sides’ position.




“On February 19, the Harwood Unified Education Association negotiations team accepted the recommendations of the fact finder and a tentative agreement was reached with the HUUSD Board. Neither party received everything they wanted, but the final agreement is fair. Union members will need to vote on this new contract at a future date. We are united with the board and the community in passing the budget on Town Meeting Day to support HUUSD students,” association spokesperson Yvette Denning wrote in an email.

The fact-finding report, submitted February 5, 2024, makes recommendations on structuring a new three-year contract for the district’s support staff. The new contract and its wage/benefit increases for support staff are retroactive to July 2023. Next steps include the support staff association voting to ratify the contract and the school board approving it.


Support staff sought paid lunch periods, more sick days, and increased wages. The district was not opposed to adding a paid meal break but noted that adding 2.5 hours a week of paid time would be the equivalent of a 7% raise. The fact finder, Gary Altman, recommended that paid lunches be adopted, but not until the second year of the contract.

In terms of sick leave, support staff had 12 paid sick days per year and partial year support staff had 10, with both groups able to accumulate a maximum of 90 sick days.

Support staff sought an increase to 20 paid sick days and the district argued that doubling the annual sick leave days was not justified and further, that it would result in HUUSD support staff having the highest number of sick days in Central Vermont.

Altman provided a chart showing sick days for support staff and teachers across 12 central Vermont school districts, ranging from 12 per year for HUUSD, up to 20 or 15 (with flex time) per year for Washington Central and 18 per year for Mount Mansfield.




Here, Altman noted that HUUSD support staff had the lowest number of sick days per year than any other district.

“The recent pandemic has heightened the importance of wage protection for employees who, because of illness, are unable to work. COVID, although not now at pandemic levels, is certainly still present and it is recommended that employees who are diagnosed, should be out of circulation for five days. Moreover, for the health and safety of employees and students, if one is sick, the person should stay at home and not be in the workplace,” Altman wrote.

He recommended that for the 2024-2025 school year, the second year of the agreement should include an increase of sick days from 10 to 12 for school year staff and from 12 to 14 days for full-year staff. For the following year, he recommended increasing school year support staff from 14 days and full-year staff to 16 days.


Support staff had asked that members who’d been working for the district for at least 12 months, working at least 1,250 hours per year or 30 hours per week on average, be considered eligible for federal and state family, parental and medical leave. The district countered, noting that it currently provides such leave in accordance with state and federal law. Altman agreed and recommended no changes.

Finally, support staff proposed a new wage schedule that takes into account years of experience, job category and education as well as establishing a joint labor-management committee to review and study adopting such a schedule in the future. The support staff association pointed out that such agreements are the norm in the region. The district disagreed with adding a wage schedule, arguing that it is not a widespread practice for support staff who are paid hourly.

Altman did not recommend this proposal.


In terms of actual wages, Altman points out that school district support staff received a $4 per hour increase in 2022, as part of a mid-contract amendment known as a side letter. He compares HUUSD wages and those of 11 other regional school districts. For the 2022-2023 year, HUUSD staff were at $19.50 (after the side letter), the highest paid of the other 11 districts where hourly rates ranged from $12.55 (Mount Mansfield) to $19.50 at HUUSD, and $18.37 at Washington Central.

His comparison shows 2023-2024 hourly wages that range from $15.51 to $19 and 2024-2025 rates than range from $17.24 to $20, and finally 2025-2026 rates ranging from $19.69 to $20.68. Because HUUSD support staff are operating without a contract, there are no projected rates beyond the 2022-2023 rates.

The association proposed a July 1, 2023, to June 30, 2026, contract that established a minimum hourly rate of $20.50 per hour, except for custodians who’d be paid $21 per hour. For the next two years of the contract, each category would increase by $1 per hour.

The association also proposed that the hourly wages of returning employees shall be increased as follows: 13.5% for the 2023-2024 school year, 9.5% for the 2024-2025 school year and 5.5% for the 2025-2026 school year.

During the public comment period at a February 14 meeting of the HUUSD Board, support staff advocated for higher wages in the context of rising costs of food, healthcare, day care, rent, home prices and property taxes. “How am I supposed to withstand the increases?” asked Laura Baker of Moretown. “How many jobs should I have, and other support staff members have, to pay for groceries, and gas, and other costs of living – like health care, that have been out of control, and don’t seem to be going down?”


The school district proposed 5%, 4%, and 3% for the 2023-2024, 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 school years.

“There is insufficient justification to increase the minimum rates for the 2023-2024 school year. Specifically, the minimum rate of $19.50 is still the highest in central Vermont for the 2023-2024 school year. The minimum rates should be increased by $0.50 for the 2024-2025,” Altman wrote.

Later he noted that the association was seeking a cumulative increase of 28.5% over the three-year contract, while the district was proposing a cumulative 12% increase. Both parties provided data on regional wages, Altman noted.

In reviewing these wage settlements, it is important to remember that for the 2022-

2023 school year the District and Association agreed to increase the minimum rates from $15.50 to $19.50, a $4 dollar an hour increase, that resulted in the highest minimum rates in the region at that time, and they are still the highest minimums for the 2023-2024 contract year, he said.

“This $4 increase was also provided to returning employees. For someone making $17 hour before the side letter, the increases provided in the side letter resulted

in more than a 20% increase. This significant increase was at the height of inflation, and was certainly justified, in view of the difficulty in retaining and hiring new employees,” he added.

He reiterated his proposal that the minimum wage increase by $0.50 per year for each year of the contract, with recommended increases for existing staff of 6% new money for 2023-2034, then 5% for 2024-2025 and 5% for the 2025-2026 school year.