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School personnel union skips contract meeting

December 22, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- The union that represents about 1,100 Washington County Public Schools employees declined to attend a meeting Tuesday to discuss renegotiating a contract that system officials say would help reduce a projected $10.6 million shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.

Timothy D. Thornburg, supervisor of employee and labor relations for Washington County Public Schools, scheduled a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the Washington County Educational Personnel Association to discuss the union's contract, which went into effect July 1, 2008, and will last until June 30, 2012. Even though the union didn't show up, Thornburg decided to go forward with the meeting to discuss the system's financial future.

"We had hoped we would have a dialogue," Thornburg said. "One of the things we want to avoid is layoffs, but we have to have that on the table."

T. Scott Miller, chief negotiator for the Washington County Educational Personnel Association, said in a telephone interview after the meeting that the school system is obligated by law to honor the contract.

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Among the provisions of the contract is a 3 percent salary increase next year for the union's employees, who include custodians and bus drivers.

"We'll be happy to negotiate in good faith," Miller said, "but we want to abide by the provisions of the contract. We will work until the end of the earth to find funding."

Miller said the union might consider renegotiating its contract if a "uniform agreement" were reached among all of the system's employees, including teachers, principals and administrators at the Central Office.

He said members of Washington County Educational Personnel Association shouldn't be asked to carry the load.

"(Educational Personnel Association) personnel do not make a ton of money," Miller said.

Thornburg said the Washington County Educational Personnel Association is the only holdout. The system's other union -- the Washington County Teachers Association -- already has agreed to review its contract. He said system negotiators were to meet with the teachers' union Monday, but inclement weather led officials to cancel the appointment.

Thornburg said the Washington County Educational Personnel Association has enjoyed the equivalent of a 4.6 percent pay raise every year since Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan took over in 2001. The 4.6 percent raises were necessary, he said, to maintain quality personnel.

Washington County Public Schools has to start considering what other public entities are doing to stay fiscally solvent, Thornburg said. As an example, he used the state, which has furloughed employees.

Chris South, chief financial officer for Washington County Public Schools, said the financial picture is becoming more bleak for public school systems because their main sources of revenue -- the county and state governments -- are experiencing financial hardship.

The state government is facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall next year, he said, and the county government is likely to suffer as a result because it receives money from the state.

South said after the meeting that about 60 percent, or roughly $138 million, of the system's general fund comes from the state. About $87.8 million, or 38 percent, is provided by the county, South said.

He said the system could save about $7 million next year if the system didn't give pay raises, but that still would leave about a $4 million shortfall.

South said the system already has reduced spending, including $2 million in maintenance projects.

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