January  15,  2012

Teacher-contract talks
may be near a

Brandywine already pays its teachers the highest salaries of any conventional school district in the state and "due to the economic reality in our district and [the] current economic environment ... cannot justify any large increases at this time," according to a statement posted on its website and distributed to news media.

The highly unusual airing of selected issues while a new labor contract is being negotiated with the teachers' union acknowledged a near impasse and announced that the sides will go to mediation in early February if agreement cannot be reached by then. Teachers have been working so far this academic year without a contract.

The statement includes data attributed to the Delaware Department of Education which discloses  that the average annual salary of Brandywine teachers is $65,623. That is 7.2% higher than the next highest average, $61,206 in the Cape Henlopen district in Sussex County. It tops the average in districts in New Castle County, $58,959, by 11.3% and the statewide average, $57,292, by 14.5%.

Neither the technical-vocational districts nor charter schools are included in the comparisons.

The statement goes on to say that Brandywine "also has a very competitive benefits package."

"We in no way intend this to be any different in the future," it said.

An update provided by district public information officer Alexis Andrianopoulos in response to a Delaforum inquiry on Jan. 13 referred to "renewed optimism" than an agreement on remaining issues can be reached before mediation. District and union negotiations have four sessions scheduled.

"Superintendent [Mark] Holodick does not expect that the two sides will need more than two or three mediation dates to resolve the outstanding issues in the contract," she said. "If mediation fails, then, and only then, would the parties go to arbitration. Both parties have been clear that they do not want to end up at the arbitration table."

The first session with the mediator is scheduled for Feb. 6.

 Officials of the union, the Brandywine Education Association, had not returned telephone calls seeking comment when this article was written.

The posted statement refers to 12 bargaining sessions held between last March and the end of 2011. The previous contract expired last August.

A large number of teachers attended two school board meetings during the autumn as a form of demonstration, but nothing was said about the status of negotiations at those meetings. Usual practice has been for the public to be kept unaware of what is going on in the behind-closed-doors labor negotiations. Even the fact that agreement has been reached and the terms of the pact are not disclosed until after the school board, briefed in closed session, has voted to ratify the pact.

This time, the posted statement refers, albeit in general terms, to salaries and working conditions.

It said that 77 of the approximately 420 terms in the previous contract dealt with matters that state law labels "permissive" -- that is, optional subjects for collective bargaining. "Prior to the start of negotiations the [school] board's negotiation team notified the negotiations representative of the teachers that 11 of the 'permissive' items in the [then-]current contract would not be terms of the contract currently being negotiated and that five of the 'permissive' terms needed to be changed in order to remain in the contract being negotiated," the statement said.

It went on, however, to refer to just one of those terms, indicating that the district wants to give principals the authority to assign duties during the first or last 15 minutes of the school day. "Although many of our teachers volunteer to supervise and keep our students safe and secure before and after the school day, under the [previous] contract the building principal [did] not have the ability to fairly distribute this responsibility among his-her entire teaching staff," the statement said.

"The district assures all stakeholders that it will continue to negotiate and mediate in good faith. ... The district and [union] must reach common understanding through ongoing collaboration and professionalism. Both parties must be mindful of student safety, student needs, fiscal responsibility and overall sustainability," the statement concluded.

2012. All rights reserved.