By Tom Tolen / & Jon King /

The school year in the Brighton Area Schools is now into its second week, and the school board, and the union representing teachers, have still not come to agreement on a salary reopener.

The Board of Education last met on Aug. 31st in a meeting punctuated by considerable noise from disgruntled teachers who had gathered outside the BECC building, where board meetings are held — some carrying signs — while other teachers drove by, honking their horns. The meeting included a closed door session to discuss the status of talks with the approximately 325 teachers, who are in the second year of a 3-year contract agreement that went into effect on Sept. 1st.

The contract included a 2.3% salary increase after completion of an approved professional development course plus a salary reopener for each of the three years. However, that was several months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Now, the district wants a revised contract that the Brighton Education Association, which represents the teachers, says calls for a 5.8% pay cut. Teachers, many of whom commented at the Aug. 31st meeting, have said that the decrease would amount to disrespecting the important job they do. They said that with the additional duties placed on them because of the COVID-19 pandemic, plus some having to do online teaching, the working environment is much more difficult this year than it has been in the past. Several also said that they had spent hundreds of dollars of their own funds getting prepared for the start of school by buying Plexiglas and other materials for their classroom to enhance safety. Although the BEA claims the district is demanding a 5.8% pay cut, a Board of Education press release the next day stated that the teachers and their supporters took information from the negotiations “out of context” and based many of their objections “on false information.”

However, BEA President Barry Goode has issued a rebuttal of the board statement, saying that “a 3.5% reduction on (the) salary schedule, paired with the elimination of (the) 2.3% pay for completing 30 hours of professional development, equates to a 5.8% reduction.” Goode also disputes the statement's contention that the district faces in excess of $5 million in state per-pupil aid cuts in the 20-21 fiscal year, saying that is an outdated projection from the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference held in May that was updated in late August. Goode contends that the school aid fund, “actually has a surplus of money left over from last year that will largely if not totally erase any reductions in funding for 2020-21.” He also responded to the board’s assertion that teachers’ union leadership had declined to engage in negotiations earlier in the process, saying they had done so because “we knew there were still too many unknowns about this year’s funding to have a fact-based conversation on finances at that time.”

But Assistant Superintendent for Business & Finance Michael Engelter says he doesn’t yet know the final state aid amount because it hasn’t been determined what the Base Foundation Grant will be for the 20-21 school year. It was $8,111 for the 19-20 year before the state reduced it by $175 per student last spring, with the coronavirus cutting heavily into state sales tax and other revenues. The state Senate Appropriations Committee has been meeting with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office in attempting to come up with an agreement on the 2021 state budget, which goes into effect on Oct. 1st. The state education budget is a huge slice of that pie, and earlier word was that state aid to public schools could be slashed up to $600 per student. However, more recent estimates have been that the cuts will be much smaller, if at all.

State Sen. Lana Theis of Brighton Twp., who chairs the Senate Education Policy Committee, says, in her words, “It’s extremely important to me that students get fully funded,” and Theis is critical of the fact that the governor’s office is meeting only with appropriations, and chooses not to work with her committee. She added that as of last Friday, to her knowledge no agreement on education funding had yet been reached.

Goode also took issue with the board’s contention that BEA leadership had violated the confidentiality of the ongoing negotiations, saying that they have “every right and actually an obligation to inform our members of the progress being made or lack thereof”, adding, “The Brighton teachers have never expected the BOE to communicate or not communicate with whomever they wish. We impose no communication rules on the BOE nor do they impose any on the BEA regarding negotiations communications.”

The Brighton school board will meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the board meeting room of the BECC building, the meeting to include a closed-door session on teacher union negotiations. The meeting will be online and available for public viewing by following the prompts on the BAS website.