BRENTWOOD -- Class sizes, salaries, the number of days teachers work each year -- there's nothing out of the ordinary about the talking points that Brentwood Union School District administrators soon will be addressing at the bargaining table.
And yet the discussions will be anything but business as usual: For the first time since California's public school employees gained the right to negotiate with their bosses in 1975, the district will be hammering out a contract with a teachers' union.
The state recognized Brentwood Teachers Association as the exclusive representative of the district's 403 certificated employees on June 4 after teachers voted to unionize.
Although a simple majority of the 316 who cast ballots would have decided the matter, those favoring a union won by a two-thirds margin.
Until now, a group of 20 instructors known as the Teacher Liaison Committee would present district decision-makers with their wish list but held no sway over them: The district wasn't obligated to negotiate anything or even to meet with them, said Bruce Colwell of the California Teachers Association.
He advises bargaining teams in far East County's four other school districts and now will serve Brentwood Union's as well.
The district also had the power to change the teachers' employee handbook unilaterally, Colwell said.
The scope of the topics discussed was limited because TLC's members only had so much time to research them, he added.
Now, "everything's on the table," said middle school history teacher and union President Darrin Spencer, one of five educators who spearheaded the campaign to organize.
According to a 2010 story in this newspaper, Brentwood Union was the sole school district in Contra Costa County without a teachers union. Clovis Unified in Fresno County was the only other district widely known in education circles to be nonunion.
Ironically, the vote this spring marked the second time that the district's teachers have formed a union.
In May 1976, teachers filed a request with the state Public Employment Relations Board to have the district recognize Brentwood Teachers Association as their sole representative.
Instead of asserting their rights, however, they reverted to the practice of allowing the state's Education Code and board policy alone to determine their working conditions.
As the years passed, teachers eventually forgot about their new powers, so it came as a surprise when Spencer and some of his colleagues discovered in 2001 that a union existed.
This time, however, a majority of teachers preferred the status quo and voted to decertify the union in February 2002.
Spencer says he only can speculate why certificated employees now have chosen the California Teachers Association to represent them once again; one reason might be the temporary freeze the district placed in 2011-12 on the years of experience that teachers were accruing, a factor used to calculate their pay raises, he said.
Margaret Kruse, assistant superintendent of human resources, doesn't think there was any conflict that precipitated the push for a union, however.
Rather, she attributes the campaign's success in part to proponents' perseverance in informing their colleagues about the benefits of unionization.
"They have presented it enough times where they reached a majority of people who said yes," she said.
Kruse also noted that Brentwood Union has a growing number of teachers who belonged to unions in other districts and want the same level of representation here.
In addition, layoffs and pay cuts in recent years have left employees feeling uncertain about the future and wanting job protection, Kruse said.
Whatever the reasons that brought them to this point, Spencer and his colleagues will have more leverage when they come to the bargaining table and additional rights when they leave.
Teachers historically haven't had access to the sophisticated tools CTA uses to analyze school budgets, Colwell said.
As a result, they've been at a disadvantage when the district has announced its spending plans for the next year's revenue.
"They just didn't have the power to counter what the district was telling them," Colwell said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.