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Teachers, school system, OK negotiating in public

December 12, 2006

Negotiations between the Washington County School Board and the teachers' association recently began, but so far there's little to report, except for one significant rule change.

According to Tim Thornburg, employee and labor relations coordinator for the board and chief negotiator, this round of negotiations will be open to all stakeholders.

Since the list of stakeholders includes taxpayers who fund the system, that would mean talks would be open to the public.

Thornburg said that both sides agreed to audio recordings of the sessions, but said the teachers felt uncomfortable with the idea of televising them.

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Will it work? Perhaps, but the recent record suggests that there might be problems.

When the five-person Hagerstown City Council tried to negotiate in public with the five members of Washington County's Board of Commissioners, nothing much was accomplished.

The two bodies then agreed that two members from each group would meet as the 2-plus-2 committee. Without a quorum of either group, there was no requirement to open the deliberations to the public.

In the Open Government Guide put out by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, it notes that as of 2006, not all states require open negotiations between public bodies and their employees.

However, in 1996, an Alaskan statute was passed to require that before the start of negotiations, the public must be given a chance to be heard on the issues.

In other cases, the report said, one side or an other has called for open talks "depending on their political and philosophical positions, and their perceived advantage of the moment, one side or the other will from time to time publicly call for open negotiating sessions."

We support the idea of open negotiations between the teachers association and the school system. Talking publicly about the challenges teachers face - and the compensation they need - would be an education for citizens, who in many cases remember a system in which most children came to school ready to learn.

This is an important step toward a more open process for determining teacher wages and working conditions. We commend both sides for agreeing to it.

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