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Board plans public presentation on contract negotiations

September 03, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

The Washington County Board of Education plans to have a public presentation on Tuesday about contract negotiations with the school system's unions.

The board held a special closed meeting on the topic on Friday.

Afterward, Wayne D. Ridenour, the board president, said in a telephone interview that the board plans to respond in a letter to a Sept. 1 counterproposal by the Washington County Teachers Association (WCTA).

The WCTA's offer includes freezing salaries and eliminating step increases. It also asks that the school system restore the June 2010 health insurance plan and benefit levels and reimburse affected employees for losses resulting from higher co-pays and premiums as of July 1.

Ridenour said he thinks the school system can't afford to make those changes without making other cuts.

"There's no doubt in any of our minds that they will result in substantial staff layoffs," Ridenour said.

T. Scott Miller, the chief negotiator for both the WCTA and the Washington County Educational Support Personnel Association, disagreed.

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Miller said the school system could use $11.2 million in its general fund balance and $4 million in federal stimulus funding to cover the WCTA proposal.

After hearing that the debate would be on the agenda at Tuesday's school board meeting, Miller initially said it would be "absolutely paramount" for union representatives to be there.

A short time later, after consulting with WCTA President Denise Fry, Miller said the union instead will have a press conference after the board meeting to present its side.

This summer, Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland's superintendent of schools, declared an impasse in negotiations between Washington County Public Schools and the unions representing teachers and support personnel.

The negotiations involve salaries. The WCTA negotiations apparently also involve contract language on layoffs and protecting teachers with seniority, according to an Aug. 25 letter from the WCTA to its members and contract language.

Even if there's an impasse, parties can talk to each other.

Miller said it would be best for the unions to meet with the school board.

Ridenour said the school board is open to more sit-down meetings and hopes they happen.

In the meantime, under state rules, a three-person panel will hear arguments connected to the impasse, then issue a report and recommendation.

Ridenour said the panel's deadline is 30 days after Aug. 26, the last time there was a negotiation meeting.

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