News

September 17, 2002

Changes in the labor contract with its teachers' union will cost the Brandywine School District $1.9 million to implement during the remaining two years of the life of the contract, Delaforum has learned. The largest share of that will go to finance successive 3.75% and 4% raises in the local portion of salaries, amounting to $860,000 this fiscal year and $1,053,000 next year.

Superintendent Bruce Harter told the school board before it approved the contract that the district budget for this year -- which is yet to be presented in preliminary form -- will be able bear the total cost of the amended contract and still allow the district to end up with a sufficient cash balance next June 30 to avoid the near-crisis which occurred as a result of ending fiscal 2002 with a razor-thin margin.

He did not, however, disclose the actual cost during the board's public session on Sept. 9  nor was it contained in the fiscal note on his written recommendation that the board ratify the contract. The information was provided to Delaforum, along with a list of all the amendments negotiated during the summer with representatives of the Brandywine Education Association, on Sept. 16 by public information officer Wendy Lapham in response to request under the state Freedom of Information Act.

The material also revealed some previously undisclosed terms, including 2% increases in each of the two years in extra pay staff members receive for taking on extra responsibilities, mostly involving extracurricular activities; improved employee benefits equivalent to an 18.6% increase; and an immediate activation of committees to review report-card and professional-development practices.

The amended contract was described at the board meeting as a first step to achieve an announced goal of making Brandywine economically competitive among districts in the Middle Atlantic region in attracting and retaining high-quality teachers. Nancy Doorey, vice president, noted that district residents surveyed a year ago strongly endorsed that effort.

Harter described the contract changes as being fully  in line with the district's long-range plan, developed with extensive collaboration with community leaders and residents.

The board approved the contract without dissent after a brief but non-specific discussion at a sparsely attended business session before a workshop meeting. Board president David Adkins told Delaforum that the board had been thoroughly briefed about it in executive session behind closed doors. Lapham distributed a press statement containing a summary of some of the contract provisions to media representatives immediately after the vote.

Teachers ratified the contract on Aug. 27. Delaforum could not determine the process by which they did so, but it is reasonable to presume no one would vote for or against a proposal without knowing its contents.

Ellen Cooper, the district's in-house attorney, ruled, however, that the public could not be made  privy to its terms until after the board formally ratified the document -- in effect, making it an irreversable done deal.

She explained to Delaforum that her ruling was based on "my reading of the law." The Freedom of Information Act and the open-meeting statute it contains specifically shield labor negotiations from public disclosure. Cooper said she interpreted that to extend until the resultant pact is agreed to and signed by both parties. While acknowledging that labor contracts are not shielded, she said, "there is no contract until [a negotiated agreement] is finally approved."

Nothing in the law requires public agencies to withhold anything except certain personnel information nor prevents them from being more liberal about what they disclose than the law requires.

Cooper rejected a Delaforum request that she seek an advisory opinion from the attorney general's office about the correctness of her interpretation. As a public agency, a school district is entitled to such an opinion. The only way Delaforum or a member of the public could obtain one would be to allege a violation of the law. Because that could possibly result in a nullification of the school board's vote and considerable inconvenience to Brandywine teachers until new board action is taken, Delaforum does not intend to do so.

The documents that were made available to Delaforum under its request contain local salary schedules which show that a first-year teacher with a bachelor degree will earn $8,582 locally financed this year and $8,904 next year. The state portion of her or his salary this year is $23,597. Local pay under the schedule ranges up to $27,118 this year and $28,135 next plus $42,687 from the state this year for someone with a doctorate and 15 years of experience.

Interestingly, the Brandywine schedule defines the upper end as a philosophy doctorate -- Ph.D. -- while the state is not specific. Many educators hold educational doctorates -- Ed.D.

The extra pay provisions include both salary supplements for specific positions and hourly-rated pay for undertaking extra-time assignments. The former involve a schedule pegged to length of experience in the job of up to three years.

The highest-paid position, high school athletic director, will get between $5,347 and $6,190 this year and between $5,459 and $6,314 next year.

There is a definite pecking order among positions with a head football coach paid slightly more than a basketball coach. The lowest-rated sports are tennis and golf. A marching band director is the highest-paid non-sport activity. Moderators of the National Honor Society, Science Olympiad and academic clubs will receive between $802 and $926 this year and $818 and $945 next year.

The hourly eper rate increases from $22 last year to $23 this year and $25 next year.

The stipend which teachers can apply to the value of locally-financed employee benefits they select from a menu of available benefits  is set at $1,675 this year and goes to $1.725 next year.

Formation of the report card committee was provided for in the basic three-year contract adopted last year, but there was no effective date specified and neither that committee nor the professional-development one were constituted.. An amendment this year sets the effective date for both at Sept. 15, 2002.

The  report-card committee consists of three administrators and three teachers. The amendments provide, however, that the present system will continue in use at least until the basic contract expires in August, 2004. The change which brought about the present system several years ago emerged from extensive public controversy, including considerable objection from affected teachers.

The amended contract also requires that the district administration negotiate the issue with the union before introducing electronic reporting of grades.

Teachers are now required "to make every effort to monitor" Internet access and downloading by students and others. They previously were "held accountable" for such monitoring.

2002. All rights reserved.

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