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School board, teachers' union bicker over bill

February 05, 2001

School board, teachers' union bicker over bill



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


ANNAPOLIS - A bill before the Maryland General Assembly this session is pitting Washington County teachers and School Board members against each other.

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The Maryland State Teachers Association wants to expand collective bargaining rights, allowing the union to negotiate issues such as class size, school calendars and curriculum.

Some members of the Washington County Board of Education worry that such new rules could bankrupt schools and leave parents out of the decision-making process.

"I don't see any benefit for the children in Washington County. All I see in the long term all they can do is damage," said board member Doris Nipps. "We're about kids. We're not about unions."

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Nipps was one of four local School Board members who lobbied the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis last week. The seven-member board has not formally taken a position on the issue.

In subsequent telephone interviews, local teachers union representatives say the School Board is misinformed about the bill, which is intended merely to open up lines of communication between the two groups.

"We would like to encourage more input to the board so they are not making decisions in a vacuum as they are wont to do. They want input only if it agrees with them," said Robert Kulp, uniServe director for the Maryland State Teachers Association.

School Board members said teachers already have input through their service on advisory boards and commissions.

If issues such as the school calendar became part of contract negotiations, the board could be charged with an unfair labor practice if it tried to also get input from the community, board members told local lawmakers.

"What are the parents going to say when the calendar is negotiated behind closed doors?" Nipps asked.

Kulp denied that would happen under the expanded collective bargaining rules.

"Quite frankly, I have never heard of anything more ridiculous than that," he said.

Board President Herbert Hardin said expanding collective bargaining would give teachers and their labor union too much power over education policy decisions.

"It's a scary thing," agreed board member Mary Wilfong.

"Labor will dictate how things are done. Maybe there wouldn't even be a need for the board of education," said board member Paul Bailey.

For example, if teachers negotiated lowering class sizes from the current average of 20, it would cost taxpayers money to hire teachers and add classroom space.

"It's going to have a budget implication that's going to be unbelievable," Hardin said.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, told School Board members he would have a hard time voting for the bill.

"What this comes down to is, do I trust you guys (school board members) or do I trust teachers," he said.

Bartlett said teachers did not endorse him during the election even though he only disagreed with them on one issue - school choice.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who said he was leaning toward supporting the bill, debated the issues with board members.

"I don't think this is that radical of a proposal. Who better to talk to than the people in the classrooms?" he asked.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, all said they were undecided.

The bills will be closely reviewed by McKee and Bartlett as members of the House Ways and Means Committee. A hearing date has not been set.

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