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ITHACA, NY – At an Ithaca City School District Board meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Dr. Luvelle Brown said he trusts the mediation process to resolve the dispute with Ithaca Teacher’s Association.

Ithaca’s teachers are in the process of renegotiating their contract with the district, but the negotiations are stuck in impasse. The teachers’ primary grudge is a lack of competitive wages. Ithaca teachers are among the lowest paid in the state, according to data from the Empire Center.

Related: Ithaca teachers organize rally; demand better wages, benefits

In a statement at the meeting, Superintendent Brown said it would be “inappropriate for me to try and capture all the thoughts about negotiations with anyone in a soundbite or statement of some sort.”

“To talk about the financial implications of anything we do, try to describe the GEA, tax caps, the last ten years of finances in our school district… just to talk about the nature of negotiations in general would be inappropriate to capture in a soundbite.”

Brown referred to the GEA, or Gap Elimination Adjustment, more than once as one element of the district’s financial woes. According to the school district’s website, the GEA program has withheld over $20 million dollars from the district since 2010.

From the school’s website:

“The total amount of State Aid estimated for ICSD is $28,220,870 for 2014-2015. In the 2008-2009 school year, we realized a total of $25,954,903. The figures equate to an insignificant 8 percent increase over 6 years which lags severely behind increases in salary and operational costs as well as the additions of unfunded mandates put upon districts by the State.”

“I trust the process”

Brown presented the following as “the facts” about the dispute:

“The conversations with the ITA negotiation team and my team have been respectful and collaborative. We’ve settled on many, many items over the past four months, we’ve come to agreement on many things and there are a few things that are outstanding,” said Brown.

“Right now we’re working with a mediator… I’ve been here for three negotiations with the ITA and two of those have had a mediator come in at some point… It’s somewhat common a mediator to come in and help with the conversations in the process,” he explained. “I trust that process. It’s a good one.”

He went on to say that he felt sharing information about what was “on the table” publicly was something he didn’t want to do because, “I trust the process so much.”

Choosing a path

Brown also took a moment to address some common “leading” questions that he had been receiving since the dispute began. He said many people had asked him why he “didn’t respect teachers.”

Brown pointed out that he was once a teacher and grew up in a family of teachers. As a former teacher, he said he understood criticisms directed at him. “There’s not a name I’ve been called the last week I haven’t heard my mama call a superintendent, or I’ve said myself.”

“My words won’t mean much,” Brown acknowledged, ” but my actions, I hope, will continue to speak for me.”

He pointed to the last five years in the district, saying “We’ve done some of the best work in the nation to benefit young people… in spite of financial crises that we haven’t seen in our history. That’s work we’ve done collaboratively and I’m proud of that.”

Brown also referred to language from ITA President Adam Piasecki’s statement released last week that spoke of the district being “at a crossroads” between two paths: one of “mutual respect and dignity” and the other a path of “bitterness and divisiveness.”

Brown said he would choose the path that was “most respectful and thoughtful and collaborative in hopes that we do what’s best for the young people of this community.” He added that Ithaca students would be learning from this dispute, thus it was important to set a good example.

After the meeting, ITA President Adam Piesecki questioned why Brown wouldn’t be speaking more openly on the matter as the ITA has been. “I’m speaking, and so I think it’s fine and appropriate for them to be speaking as well,” he said.

Related: Hundreds rally to support Ithaca teachers in dispute with school district

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.