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Board, teachers unable to agree on rules

December 12, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - The Washington County Teachers Association and the Washington County Board of Education were unable to agree on ground rules for negotiations, so they will proceed without them.

The decision was made during Monday's bargaining session for the 2007-08 school year, which was open to the public.

Each side met in closed caucus for about 30 minutes before the start of the 5 p.m. session at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

At the start of the meeting, T. Scott Miller, Maryland State Teachers Association UniServ director and chief negotiator, cited several inaccuracies in information released by the Board of Education to The Herald-Mail.

"(We're) extremely concerned about inaccuracies (in the board's) press release," Miller said, referring to one released last week by Washington County Public Schools.

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Miller cited the information released to The Herald-Mail by the board as the reason the teachers association would not sign the ground rules established during previous bargaining sessions. He said it also was the reason for seeking closed meetings.

Tim Thornburg, employee and labor relations coordinator for the board and chief negotiator, said the teachers association was invited to collaborate on the press release.

"They declined," he said.

During Monday's meeting, the teachers association presented new ground rules, including one that would make the bargaining sessions closed to the public.

"We insist on closed negotiations," he said.

Miller cited federal precedents and neighboring counties' decisions as reasons for closing the proceedings.

He said sessions are closed to promote "frank discussion."

Ground rules had been established, but not signed, during a meeting Thursday, including one that would make the negotiations open.

Thornburg said those 21 ground rules were agreed upon in good faith during discussions at two prior bargaining sessions.

Miller said during Monday's meeting that the association would not sign off on the ground rules without consent of the new ground rules.

"We didn't violate your good faith, you violated ours," he said to the board.

Thornburg said he was "disappointed" in the decision to not agree on the previously discussed ground rules.

The board said they would not accept the new ground rules presented Monday.

Both sides said that proceeding with negotiations without ground rules does happen during bargaining.

"We spent two negotiations focusing on ground rules for us to simply throw them away," Thornburg said.

Miller said he was "concerned" about negotiations, and both sides said they wanted to hold civil and courteous sessions.

Amid the inability to negotiate ground rules, the board of education did present the second of its proposals: the voluntary transfer process. Its first was tuition reimbursement. Thornburg said salary would be discussed at a later meeting.

Thornburg said teachers have from Feb. 1 to June 15 to say they want to voluntarily transfer from a position. He said the board would like to shorten that to a 30-day period.

"By shortening the transfer timeline, it will give us the opportunity to recruit the teachers in critical, hard-to-fill areas, while at the same time allowing current teachers the opportunity to apply for a voluntary transfer within the system," he said.

After the private caucuses, Miller asked the board several questions about their proposal.

The teachers association has presented only their proposal in regards to salary. Thornburg has said that each side selects two topics to negotiate, as well as the mandatory topic of salary. The full contract will be open for bargaining in the fall of 2007 for subsequent years.

At the close of the bargaining session, no date for the next session was set.

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