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WCPS, unions struggle to overcome impasse

Contract negotiations involve salaries and seniority

September 02, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE

State Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick this summer declared an impasse in negotiations between Washington County Public Schools and the unions that represent teachers and support personnel, officials with both sides said this week.

Both sets of negotiations involve salaries because schools officials say the school system does not have enough money to grant the raises and step increases set up for this fiscal year in both contracts.

The impasse between the school system and the Washington County Teachers Association (WCTA) also appears to be related to a request from the school system to rewrite contract language that deals with layoffs and the protection of teachers with seniority, according to an Aug. 25 letter from the WCTA to its members and contract language.

That letter, provided to The Herald-Mail by a person who received a copy, states the WCTA in May offered to forgo the salary and step increases for this fiscal year and to absorb increases in health care premiums, co-pays and other cost increases. The offers were made in light of the challenging economic times, the letter states.


The Washington County Board of Education rejected that offer, the letter states. During the May 7 meeting, board officials presented two new items for negotiation and indicated their intent to declare negotiations at a standstill and file for an impasse, the letter states.

One of the new issues was "to remove language in our Negotiated Agreement for Reduction in Force, which protects teachers and outlines procedures for teacher layoffs during an economic crisis," according to the letter.

The Reduction in Force segment of the WCTA's contract basically states that when layoffs occur, priority is given to protecting employees with seniority. For senior employees whose job positions are affected, the contract section describes how those employees can prioritize their preferences for other positions in the school system.

The second new issue was a proposed 10 percent increase in teachers' share of insurance premiums, the letter states.

Boyd Michael, deputy superintendent for Washington County Public Schools, said that, per the WCTA contract, the school board's negotiating team exercised its right to renegotiate salaries and offered only one additional item for renegotiation -- seniority. Michael said the WCTA raised the insurance premium hike for renegotiation.

T. Scott Miller, chief negotiator for both unions, maintained that the school system offered both the insurance and reduction in force items for renegotiation regarding the WCTA contract. Miller sent The Herald-Mail a fax that appeared to show that those requests came from the Board of Education.

The fax also contained a page, apparently from the Board of Education, that showed school system officials wanted to strike an article entitled "Reduction in Force."

The page states: "As a result of greater educational accountability in the State of Maryland, it is incumbent upon the Board of Education of Washington County to have the most highly qualified teachers working with students at all times and in all subject areas, and because years of service do not always equate to the identified needs of our students, the following contract modification is necessary: o Strike Article 4.6 entitled 'Reduction in Force.'" The document is stamped as received by the WCTA on May 7.

Asked if there were plans to lay off teachers, Michael said as of Thursday, the school system has a balanced budget. If there are no changes to the current budget, staff expects to get through the rest of this fiscal year without layoffs, he said.

Because staff salaries and benefits make up about 85 percent of the current operating budget, should a decision substantially change that budget, it would be difficult to make changes without affecting every part of the budget, Michael said.

Michael said he wasn't aware of anything at this point that would require such a budget reconsideration.

However, if a decision were made to give employees raises or change benefits, staff would "have to look at a very tight budget," Michael said.

Miller said Tuesday, "Right now, the parties have agreed negotiations are ongoing and we have no further comment." He would not comment on the content of the letter.

On Thursday, he said while the two sides were not currently having negotiation sessions, ideas still were being traded back and forth, via writing, concerning the WCTA contract.

The WCTA has about 1,400 members and the Washington County Educational Support Personnel Association (WCESPA) has about 500 members, Miller said.

The issues

Contracts for both unions contain salary increases for this fiscal year, according to their contracts.

WCTA members were slated, under the original contract, to get a 3 percent salary increase, which some people refer to as a cost-of-living increase, plus step increases this fiscal year, according to the contract.

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