Teachers, Washington County school board are close 'on almost all issues' in contract talk

February 22, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The Washington County Teachers Association and officials representing the Board of Education met publicly for the first time Thursday to discuss the teachers' 2008-09 contract.

Both sides tentatively agreed on the following items:

· extending the number of weeks teachers have to pay their union dues to 16 pay periods from 10;

· direct deposit for money for the teachers association.

Officials representing the board also are reviewing a counterproposal from the teachers union that would require two night meetings for teachers each school year.

Representatives of both sides said they are close to agreeing on several proposals. Each side brought forth items for discussion, in addition to salary and benefits. The current three-year contract expires in June.


"We are very close in almost all issues," said Jeff Farr, chief negotiator for the teachers union and a teacher at Antietam Academy.

That is dramatically different from last year's negotiations on portions of the 2007-08 teachers' contract. Those discussions lasted six months and ended in June after state officials declared talks at an impasse in May 2007.

That package, which totaled about $8 million, included a 7 percent raise for teachers, among other items.

Tim Thornburg said Thursday that this will be a "lean year," and next year is likely to be the same. Thornburg is supervisor of human resources and employee/labor relations for Washington County Public Schools and is the board's chief negotiator.

"We understand the economics," Farr said.

Thornburg said that some salary increases for teachers have been discussed, but no formal proposals have been made by either side.

Current negotiations could have included the full contract. However, each side has selected issues they would like entered into the contract. Those will be discussed along with salary and benefits.

The WCTA has asked for the following:

· changes in temporary leave, which includes bereavement leave and religious observance;

· increases in planning time for teachers;

· association rights, which include extending the number of pay periods that dues are deducted to 16 from 10, direct deposit to the association's account and e-mail use;

· the establishment of a health-care committee;

· the maintenance of current health-care benefits for retirees;

· improved contract language regarding a leadership program for teachers.

The Board of Education has asked for the following:

· that teachers attend two mandatory evening meetings each school year, such as a back-to-school night;

· a reduction in costs associated with workers' compensation;

· a reduction in the amount of time for reassignment of vacated positions;

· improved salaries for teachers involved in extracurricular activities;

· tuition assistance for teachers interested in moving to a "critical need" area;

· a change in the contract language regarding monitoring duties.

Thornburg said he believes both sides can come to resolution "very quickly." Both sides said they have been collaborating and that talks are going well.

"We are anxious to work with the board on their issues," Farr said. "We are not aiming high so we can gain low. That's unrealistic."

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