October 30, 2002

Paraprofessional employees in the Brandywine School District have received a 4.8% increase in the district's share of their pay this year. When combined with the state portion of their wages, that brings the rate to between $11.94 and $18.73 an hour, depending on length of service. Paraprofessionals fill ancillary roles such as teacher aides and bus attendants.

As previously reported by Delaforum, a three-year labor contract negotiated with their union, Local 762 of the American Federation of Teachers, was ratified by the Brandywine Board of Education at its monthly business meeting on Oct. 17, but terms of the agreement were not discussed in public before the vote nor made available to attenders at the meeting. Information concerning changes from the union's previous three-year contract, which expired at the end of August, has since been released by the district administration in response to a state Freedom of Information Act request by Delaforum.

The district also released information not previously available related to the hiring at the same meeting of Julie Schmidt to fill a newly established administrative position, supervisor of accountability.

The paraprofessionals' contract provides for 4.8% and 5% raises in each of the next two years. That brings the local wage rate to $1.73 an hour this year, up from the previous $1.65. The agreement is retroactive to Sept. 1.  The rate will go to $1.81 next year and $1.90 in the 2004-05 academic year.

The contract extends paraprofessionals' working day to 7 hours, including a half-hour for lunch and two 15-minute work breaks, from 6 hours, exclusive of  lunch, in the previous contract. The work year is now set at 185 days. Those paid entirely with local money are to work seven hours a day over 180 days an academic year. It is not clear whether their local wage rate is equivalent to the combined state-local rate the others receive.

The district said the increase in the total local wage cost this year will be $93,000, of which $11,000 is the result of the extended hours and number of working days. Those extensions were mandated by state law.

The new contract also gives paraprofessionals parity with teachers in the amount of paid employee benefits, such as medical insurance, to which they are entitled. There also is an increase from $85 to $110 in the lump-sum supplement paid to those whose duties subject them to the Wilmington wage tax, but the contract contains a statement that anyone hired after Sept. 1, 2002, is not eligible to receive that supplement.

The district did not provide an estimate of the cost of those provisions. Nor had it responded to a request to confirm the accuracy of Delaforum's interpretations and calculations as this article was being prepared. Also not provided was the number of paraprofessionals employed by the district.

Ellen Cooper, the district's in-house lawyer, previously ruled, in connection with the ratification in September of changes in the contract with the teachers' union, the Brandywine Education Association, that the shield from public view provided by the Freedom of Information Act for labor negotiations extends until an agreement is ratified by both parties. She has declined a Delaforum request that the district seek a ruling from the state attorney general concerning the correctness of her interpretation of the law. Delaforum could obtain such a ruling only by filing a formal citizen's complaint, which might put the contract at risk and seriously but unnecessarily inconvenience the district's entire teaching and paraprofessional staffs.

A 2% raise in the local portion of the salaries of administrators, specialists and secretaries approved at the Oct. 17 meeting to match the increases granted in the previously approved contract with the teachers' union, will cost the district $135,576, according to district spokeswoman Wendy Lapham.

Schmidt was hired at a salary of $81,997. Lapham said the new position, which involves managing district and state testing and interpreting the results, "is aligned with the goals of the district's strategic plan." The budget for developing standardized course testing at the middle- and secondary-school is $80,000, of which some will pay the local share of Schmidt's salary while the state portion is provided by an authorized but vacant supervisory position, Lapham said.

Schmidt has a doctor of philosophy degree from the University of Delaware's College of Education and a masters in political science from the university. Since 1966 she was the leader of science assessment development for the state student testing program. She has been an instructor in the university's education and arts and sciences colleges.

The new position was created at the Oct. 17 meeting, literally only a few minutes before Superintendent Bruce Harter provided members of the board with an addendum listing Schmidt as the candidate chosen to fill it. The board approved the position unanimously and did not discuss Schmidt's candidacy before routinely confirming her hiring along with other personnel actions contained in a monthly report.

Lapham, in response to Delaforum's request, provided the following account of the related sequence of events.

"The position of supervisor of accountability was originally posted on Sept. 4 as the position of coordinator of assessment, testing and evaluation, with a closing date of Sept. 18. Because the pool of applicants for the position of coordinator of assessment, testing and evaluation did not meet district expectations, the job was not filled. The position was re-evaluated and upgraded to supervisor of accountability, and the board provided guidance at its September meeting to post the position at the supervisor level. The supervisor of accountability position was posted on Sept. 30 with a closing date of Oct. 10. Candidates participated in an interview process pursuant to board policy. At the Oct. 17 meeting the board first approved the change in the organizational chart (agenda item XII I) and then approved Ms Schmidt for the position of supervisor of accountability."

There is no reference to either the former or the new position in the approved minutes of the Sept. 26 business meeting nor in the minutes of one 'action meeting' or two workshop meetings in September.

Lapham added the the personnel report addendum was necessary "because the board first needed to approve the change in the organizational chart."

She said that Penny Person resigned as manager of the districts extensive building renovation program to "take a job with the University of Delaware." Lapham said Person had been employed by Brandywine since November, 2001. The board accepted that resignation without comment or explanation.

2002. All rights reserved.

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