By Tom Tolen /

With school now in its third week, the approximately 325 Brighton Area Schools teachers are still without an agreement with the school district on salary aspects of their current contract. The teachers, who are represented by the Brighton Education Association, are in year two of their three-year agreement.

According to BEA President Barry Goode, the Board of Education is continuing to demand a pay cut, despite a fund balance of $7.9 million from last year and about $9 million in savings in all, when including all funds. Goode said that although the board has moderated its prior stance in contract talks, it's not enough. “They’ve moved some (from their previous position), but we’re not anywhere near where we need to be,” he said. He added he was not at liberty to reveal the board’s latest contract offer. Once again Monday night, teachers were outside the windows of the board meeting room at the BECC building, where shouts of “Give us a contract” could be heard loudly through the walls. And again, as in other recent meetings, one or more cars could be heard passing by while loudly honking their horns. About 10 teachers spoke virtually at the public comments portion of the online meeting, high school teacher Sean Carney saying, “We deserve a fair deal.” Fellow teacher Colleen Buchanan maintained that, “It’s the teachers who are the essential workers (and keep the district running).”

The contract approved in 2019 included a 2.3% salary increase per year after completion of an approved professional development course, plus a salary reopener for each year. However, this summer, the board did an about-face, proposing a 5.8% pay cut for teachers, the rationale being an expected cut in state aid to public schools totaling as much as $600 per student. However, that ultimately didn’t happen, and instead, the state is providing extra funds to school districts, over and above the $8,111 that districts such as Brighton are receiving per student in State Foundation Grant funds.

Although Public Act 146 of 2020 included a $175 per-pupil cut to local school districts, the full amount of state aid has not only been restored, but an additional $65 per student has been tacked on as a one-time step, which amounts to an extra $400,000 for district coffers. One parent who is not a teacher also commented, saying, she backs the teachers 100%. For those reasons, Goode contends that the district’s demand for a pay cut is unjustified. Although fall enrollment counts are not yet in, Goode maintained that enrollment in the district is steady, and therefore it is his contention that declining enrollment cannot be cited as another reason for the district’s hardball stance on negotiations. Goode said he “can’t get anybody to give a rational answer, or any kind of an answer,” as to why the board continues to insist on a pay cut.

Asked whether things would’ve been different if Greg Gray - who retired after 11 years at the end of June - were still superintendent, Goode replied in the affirmative — alleging that the contract would’ve been settled in August. Although Laura Surrey is the current Brighton superintendent, she only has interim status, and will be gone once newly-appointed superintendent Matthew Outlaw begins his new position in late October. The board voted unanimously last week to hire Outlaw, the superintendent of the Brandon School District in Ortonville, to replace Gray.

Goode said he contacted the Michigan Attorney General’s office recently for what he called the district’s alleged lack of bargaining in good faith when he could not get the board to agree to a negotiating session over a two-week period. However, since then the board has agreed to a meeting, which has been scheduled for this Wednesday at 4 p.m. As a result, Goode said he will not seek action from the state AG’s office at this time. Board President Andy Burchfield could not be reached for comment after Monday’s meeting on the status of negotiations with the BEA.