A new bargaining technique used by Cape educators and union leaders has resulted in a five-year contract and improved relationships in under three days of negotiations.
Additional special education coordinators, raises and summer hiring processes resulted from the interest-based bargaining process held Feb. 11-13 at H.O. Brittingham Elementary. The contract was approved by the school board Feb. 28 and goes into effect July 1.
Assistant Superintendent Jenny Nauman said the two sides had always used traditional methods of negotiating contracts, but she wanted to try something different.
“With the traditional way, very separate sides go back and forth,” Nauman said. “It can take months because you meet with the other side, then you discuss with your team and come back with a counter-offer.”
Nauman said she researched a process called interest-based bargaining, in which parties collaborate to find solutions that benefit both sides, and contacted Cape Henlopen Education Association President John Dean.
“They were thinking about doing the same thing!” Nauman said. “We have a good relationship so we decided to try it.”
Dean, who has now negotiated four professional staff contracts, said the process brought the two sides together as a team.
“We started working together and looking out for each other to make sure everyone’s needs were met,” Dean said.
Nauman said seating during discussions was organized so that union representatives and district staff sat next to each other, rather than across the table from each other. She said solutions were not decided until complete agreement was reached on both sides.
“We reminded each other about our key mission, which was we’re here to do what’s best for the students,” Nauman said. “That kept us on track so we didn’t make adult-based decisions.”
Negotiators offered discussion topics with reasons supporting stances on each topic. Dean said staffing for special education coordinators had gone unchanged for 25 years. The two sides agreed to one special education coordinator in each elementary and middle school, and two at Cape High.
Dean said both sides agreed raises must be sustainable, so they based salary increases on increases to the district’s tax revenue.
“They will be a minimum of 1 percent and a maximum of 2 percent annually, and will be half the amount of growth in the tax base,” Dean said. “If the tax base goes up 3 percent, we get a 1.5 percent raise.”
The process for summer hires was also a concern, Dean said. Summer positions are posted internally first, and then externally. Dean said employees who applied after the internal posting period would still receive preferential treatment. Dean said the process was streamlined so that once the position is posted externally, Cape employees can still apply but would not receive preferential treatment.
Superintendent Bob Fulton said he was not surprised at the amicable contract negotiations.
“We have a good relationship with our staff, and they’re all here for the right reason,” Fulton said. “The success had a lot to do with the leadership of both groups and how they kept the focus on the students.”
Nauman agreed, “It shows the union and the district truly came out on one side and built an even better relationship. After negotiations, we have even more trust and respect for each other.”