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School board sees dangers in bargaining

February 20, 2002

School board sees dangers in bargaining



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


Passage of a bill before the Maryland Senate that would give teachers and support staff more collective bargaining rights would be devastating to public education and would remove the voice of parents and students from important school issues, Washington County Board of Education representatives said at a Tuesday morning meeting.

School Board Director of Human Resources Donald Francis said the bill would put the interests of teachers and support staff groups ahead of students.

"I don't think parents understand how much of an impact this is going to have on education," Francis said. "The needs of the employees are going to take precedent."

Claude Sasse, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, called the School Board's claims against the bill "scare tactics" to garner opposition to the bill.

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"It's not going to take any of that away," said Sasse, who said the bill "simply allows us a window for mutual discussion."

Bonnie Parks, the president of the county's Educational Support Personnel Local I, said the bill would allow the county's approximately 940 support staff employees the right to discuss basic issues such as employee transfers.

"I have more due process with a $75 speeding ticket than I do with the Board of Education," Parks said.

Collective bargaining allows unions and employers to discuss terms of employment for members of that union.

The bill would give teacher and support staff unions the power to negotiate a list of items, including school calendars, student discipline matters, curriculum, textbook selection, class size and education policy.

Teachers and support staff are not permitted to negotiate those matters under the current law.

The bill would not give teachers the right to strike, which is prohibited by state law.

The bill has the backing of the Maryland State Board of Education and the Maryland State Teachers Association. Last year, the General Assembly rejected a collective bargaining bill.

"This is not good for education," School Board member Doris Nipps said of the bill. "It never says that the bill will provide a better educational opportunity for kids."

Sasse said teachers would be given the opportunity to help improve several school issues, which would then improve the quality of instruction.

"We want to mutually figure out what to do instead of being told what to do, and then have what we're told to do not work," Sasse said.

Sasse said the last time the state negotiations law was changed was 1978. Currently, teachers may negotiate only wages, benefits and working conditions.

"We, as school workers, really have to come into the 20th century," Parks said. "The current law really does not serve us any purpose."

The Washington County Teachers Association belongs to the Maryland State Teachers Association. Both groups serve as advocates for their members.

Sasse said the new bill would allow teachers to discuss the "little things" that take away from quality instruction, such as a lack of planning time for teachers and inequity in class sizes.

Teachers aren't permitted to talk to the School Board about such things as disputes over evaluations, teacher transfers and school security. They would have that freedom under the bill, Sasse said.

"Less and less teachers are being asked to be involved in these kind of things," he said. "Teachers don't feel as free to talk about issues that they would like to talk about."

School Board member J. Herbert Hardin said talking about those issues could be costly to the school system if teachers and support staff disagreed with the board. He said the employee groups would have the right to call in arbitrators and litigate to settle disagreements.

Sasse said he can't recall when teachers have asked for an arbitrator in recent history.

The School Board is considering making a public statement against the bill in coming weeks.

"It will have a tremendous impact on us collectively, but more importantly, the educational impact can be devastating," Francis said.

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