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Board: Contract talks at impasse

Teachers disagree

Teachers disagree

March 21, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - The Washington County Board of Education said Tuesday that contract negotiations with the county's teachers union could go no further without help from the state and warned that any offer currently on the table was no longer guaranteed.

After nearly four months of offers and counteroffers, the board said talks were stalled and that they would recommend state officials declare an impasse.

The Washington County Teachers Association's negotiating team said there is no reason to request an impasse. The association has emphasized that its primary concern is to negotiate a fair and equitable contract by discussing the association's proposals rather than focusing on "destructive and unnecessary accusations of impasse or stalling," said T. Scott Miller, Maryland State Teachers Association UniServ Director and chief negotiator.

Tim Thornburg, employee and labor relations coordinator and chief negotiator for the board, said that within one week he will be recommending to the state superintendent of schools that an impasse be declared. If that occurs and the board and the teachers union agree, the state board of education could mediate the talks, officials have said.

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If not, a three-party panel would be created with one representative from each side and one additional member approved by both sides.

The last public meeting between the sides was March 5. Thornburg said that on March 9, he and Edward Lynch, executive director of human resources, met with Miller and union president Claude Sasse to reach a tentative agreement on contract language.

"Although the parties reached agreement at that time, the larger (teachers association) negotiations team is still unwilling to honor the agreement," Thornburg stated in a release.

Miller: No agreement

Miller said that no tentative agreement was reached and that the association would have to meet as a group before any final decisions were made. He said both sides also discussed at that meeting the need for another joint bargaining session.

"That's what we agreed on," Miller said. "We need one more session for the association to provide its offer to the board. We would like really to negotiate with the board in a joint session."

Miller said that from March 16 to March 20 the association offered three times to meet with the board's negotiating team to reach an agreement. In a statement, he said, the association was "baffled" that the board declined those invitations.

Thornburg said he was unaware of the attempts Miller was referring to. He said he was aware of only one suggestion by teachers to resume talks.

"I am disappointed that the association continues in its efforts to masquerade the truth," Thornburg said.

Board of Education President Roxanne R. Ober said the board had hoped that negotiations would be completed by now. When talks began, the board said it had hoped to be done in February to accommodate recruiting efforts and let teachers know what they could expect in the contract for the upcoming school year.

She described the offer to the association as a "teacher-friendly" contract.

Miller said the association agrees with the board's salary increase of 7 percent, plus a step increase. Only minor revisions to the current contract language are needed, he said, before the association would agree to sabbatical proposals.

The association believes that teachers should be offered 100 percent tuition reimbursement, Miller said. The board's proposal included increasing the amount reimbursed from $198 per semester hour to $294 per semester hour.

The association also wants a health benefits committee to ensure transparency in the board's use of health benefit funds, Miller said. Thornburg said that the board was proposing 50 percent health insurance for part-time teachers, and had included in its proposal a vision care plan for all teachers, which had been an item the association wanted included in the upcoming contract.

"From my past experience with the negotiations and the impasse processes, we are entering a critical time for our teachers," Thornburg said. "The decisions of the association's leadership will affect the approximately 1,600 Washington County teachers, and if we cannot reach resolution, the package currently on the table could be diminished."

The association said that the board was unwilling to negotiate an agreement with its teachers, placing the school system in jeopardy of being unable to recruit and retain the highest quality staff.

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