By Tom Tolen /

While about 200 teachers and their supporters stood outside to express their displeasure with the status of contract talks, the Brighton Board of Education met and then hurriedly adjourned its scheduled meeting Monday night.

The group demonstrating outside was orderly and peaceful, and gradually dispersed after learning that the meeting had been cancelled. The meeting was supposed to be the first for newly appointed superintendent Matthew Outlaw, whom the board hired to replace Greg Gray, who retired at the end of June. Laura Surrey had been holding the reins as interim superintendent from July 1st until Monday. Barry Goode, who heads the Brighton Education Association - the bargaining unit for the teachers — had expressed frustration at the lack-of-face to face communication with the board and organized the rally.

The teachers are in the second year of a three-year contract that allows for salary reopeners each year. However this summer’s contract talks made zero progress because the district’s offer was for the teachers to accept a substantial pay cut. However, they counter that the district is in an excellent financial position, with over $9 million in combined fund equity and can easily afford an increase. No bargaining sessions are scheduled at this time. Goode said the teachers have just this year returned to their pay scale in 2008 before they took a voluntary, 7% cut when the recession hit.

Board President Andy Burchfield told WHMI Monday night that the board has asked for “facilitated mediation” to break the stalemate. And while Goode says he is fine with a facilitator stepping in, he doesn’t see why that should be necessary. He said the district’s negotiating team, led by Assistant Superintendent for Labor and Personnel Sharon Irvine, is very competent. However, Goode added the caveat that, “The board doesn’t give them any leeway” toward reaching an agreement. Burchfield said a statement will be forthcoming from Irvine this week outlining the board’s position, and maintained that Goode’s contentions are not entirely factual. Burchfield said, “The vast majority (of information) of floating out there is not accurate.”

Burchfield said the board received information Monday afternoon that the Michigan Supreme Court’s Oct. 2nd ruling striking down Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Executive Orders - such as over public meeting limitations, wearing masks and social distancing — was meant to take effect immediately, and not on Oct. 30th. Supreme Court Justices on Monday also reaffirmed their ruling striking down the 1945 Emergency Powers law as unconstitutional. Gov. Whitmer had asked the court for an extra 28 days to make the necessary adjustments, but justices voted 6-1 to reject her request for extra time.

In light of the decision, made just five hours before the board meeting, Burchfield said that given Open Meetings Act requirements, the board had no choice but to cancel the meeting. Burchfield said that due to the extremely light agenda, a special meeting will not be needed before the next regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 26th. A venue has not been chosen, but for a brief time last week the board was going to hold Monday’s meeting at the Center for the Performing Arts. About a day later that was quickly changed back to BECC, the originally scheduled location for a virtual meeting, after opinions from attorneys stating it would be legal. Their interpretation of the Supreme Court’s ruling was that it did not take effect immediately — an opinion negated by Monday’s ruling.