September 19, 2002

Red Clay teachers and the district's school board traded some sharp jibes, but left the door open for discussions away from the apparently stalemated bargaining table as the teachers began their second academic year without a labor contract and third without a locally-financed pay raise.

"We'll discus our position at any time the teachers will do theirs," board president William Manning said after a parent proposed talking things over in public to clear up what she alleged were conflicting and confusing accounts of where each side in the contract dispute stands.

"We need to have an open forum for discussion," said Marty Michles, president of the Red Clay Education Association, the teachers' union.

Manning stressed, however, that his willingness to participate in such a session applies only if it is conducted "without the screaming and circus atmosphere."

Earlier in the board's monthly business meeting on Sept. 18, several speakers raked the board, district administration and Manning in particular for allegedly not negotiating in good faith. They spoke to applause, some derisive laughter and catcalls from some 200 teachers and supporting parents, most of whom stood along the back walls of the auditorium at Warner Elementary School. Before the meeting, the protestors  had formed a picket line along 18th Street in front of the building.

Michles told Delaforum after that portion that several teachers have decided not to participate in unpaid activities beyond the school day. She said it was not an organized job action, but individual and voluntary elections "not to do anything we're not required [by the extended contract] to do." Delaware law does not permit strikes or organized work stoppages by public employees.

What evidently touched off the demonstration was distribution by the administration of a letter to parents in which Manning and Superintendent Robert Andrzejewski blamed the union for blocking a settlement of the dispute by proposing a 26% increase, in three annual increments of 10%, 8% and 8%, in the district portion of teachers' salaries. Districts pay about a third of the salaries and the sate pays the rest. The district has proposed a 6% increase this year and reopening of the contract next summer to negotiate salaries and benefits.

Michles said teachers have not received any increases in district pay since the former contract ran out in 2000. The state has provided raises, including a 2% increase this year.

At the meeting Manning called the 26% proposal "a demand we simply can't meet." He said Red Clay did not have the money to do so without going to residents in a referendum to obtain a "hefty tax increase." Board member Charles Cavanaugh said that no one in any business has received a double-digit pay raise in more than a decade.

The nub of the dispute, however, is with a board proposal that teachers agree to establish a procedure for using measured improvements in students' performance over the course of a school year as part of  their job-performance evaluations. The administration in late August withdrew that condition, substituting a one-year pilot study, which would have no bearing on evaluations this year and re-opening the issue next summer.

With the dispute having entered the process of formal fact-finding, Manning said he would be willing to make public the district's submission, if it legally permissible to do so. He called an unscheduled closed-door executive session of board members, presumably to discuss that point.

The Red Clay union received strong support from Barbara Grogg, president of the Delaware State Education Association, the statewide union with which it is affiliated. Denouncing the linking of evaluations with student testing, she said "a plan that causes fear has no place in education." She charged that Red Clay has "tried to demoralize [its] teachers by treating them shabbily."

"It makes sense to measure teachers by how well their students can perform," Manning said. "I am always disappointed when they tell me that holding people accountable is a terrible thing to do."

Award-winning teacher Cindy Pacomis said that, because all children are different, "one-size testing does not fit all."  Parent Judy Pappenhagen said frequent testing has had an ill effect on the children. And Alyssa Hunter-Harris, a sophomore at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, charged, "You guys test us to death. Why is it relevant to what you're going to pay our teachers?"

Parent Kris Chalfant claimed that Red Clay students spend the equivalent of five week a year being tested. She charged that the district's school have been "resegregated," adding that, if student performance is the ultimate measure of a teacher's ability, "who will want to teach at Shortlidge or Warner instead of Linden Hill or Brandywine Springs?" The former schools are in Wilmington while the latter are in the suburbs.

The board heard out the critics during the usual portion reserved for public comment at the beginning of the meeting and then went on with other business. Before adjournment -- after most of the protestors had left -- members resumed a discussion of the contract issue. Michles remained for that portion of the meeting.

Board members then were unanimous in disputing the earlier speakers.

"There was so much misinformation that I don't know where to start," Toni Eaton said. "Parents aren't getting [much] information and what they are getting is from the teacher's point of view." She said that Red Clay's proposed evaluation proposal is not based on results of a single test, but would use "multiple assessments throughout the year."

Manning said that the intent is not to measure how students perform in comparison to each other or other classes, but to chart the rate of individual students' improvement over the course of the year as an indicator of the teacher's performance.

Vice president Irwin Becnel took issue with the claims regarding the amount of testing that goes on. He said it nets out to about 10 to 12 hours over the course of the year --  nowhere near the five weeks that was claimed.

Loretta Rice said that the board is not acting against the interests of Red Clay teachers. "We are only trying to do what we were elected to do," she said.

2002. All rights reserved.

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