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Bargaining bill would be costly, says Hardin

March 29, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

While recent amendments to a state bill would restrict some of the items Maryland's teachers could negotiate, Washington County School Board member J. Herbert Hardin said he doesn't believe the changes are restrictive enough.

Hardin said he thinks that even with the amendments, the collective bargaining bill would bankrupt local school systems and lengthen the amount of time it takes to negotiate a contract with teachers.

Claude Sasse, the president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said he continues to support the bill with the amendments.

The Senate this week passed the bill that would give teachers the right to negotiate issues such as curriculum selection, teacher evaluations and transfers and school security.

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The Senate removed several of the proposed negotiable items from the original bill, including class size and school calendar. It also decided that local school boards and teachers must agree on the items to be negotiated, or those items cannot be brought to the bargaining table.

Under the current negotiations law, teachers may negotiate salaries, hours and working conditions.

The proposed bill would have to be passed by the House.

Support staff of local school systems would also be given more collective bargaining rights under the bill. Support employees include those such as secretaries, maintenance workers and instructional assistants.

"We can live with the amendments that the Senate has added to the bill. That's fine," Sasse said. "All we're looking to do is have this process move forward and be passed."

Hardin said parts of the bill are unclear and leave the door wide open for teachers to bring in mediators for items that cannot be agreed upon during negotiations, resulting in legal expenses the school system cannot afford.

The School Board and the teachers association would be required to share the costs associated with solving the impasse, he said.

"Where they think that money is coming from, I'm not sure," Hardin said. "It's going to have to come out of our budget."

He said the school system would have to cut positions in order to pay for the legal expenses.

Sasse said teachers already have the right to call in mediators but rarely do so.

"If our contract would go to an impasse, we bring a mediator in," Sasse said. "That's always been the case in the past. Nothing has changed."

He said that the bill allows the School Board to refuse to negotiate any item proposed by teachers.

"If we can't come to any kind of agreement, that thing dies," Sasse said. "Nothing happens. All this does is get our foot in the door to talk about issues that are facing our schools today."

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