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WCPS officials provide overview of contract talks

Ridenour says layoffs likely if panel rules in union's favor

September 07, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE
  • T. Scott Miller

Washington County Public Schools officials provided an overview Tuesday of contract negotiation issues with the teachers union, including the connection between funding the union's proposal and possible layoffs.

The sides have been in negotiations for about a year, said Michael Markoe, assistant superintendent for student and staff support. Negotiations relate to the last year in the Washington County Teachers Association's contract, which is the fiscal year that began July 1.

The negotiations, which include salary and step increases as well as who bears what portion of health care costs, were declared at an impasse in June by State Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick.

Both sides presented their arguments Aug. 26 to an impasse panel that must issue a written report and recommendation within 30 days of that meeting.

Asked after Tuesday's presentation what the board would do if the panel recommends in the union's favor, School Board President Wayne Ridenour said the board would have to go back to the drawing board if any of the recommendations involve expenses.


With personnel-related costs accounting for 88 percent of the board's operating budget, Ridenour said he couldn't see how layoffs could be avoided.

"It would be nice to settle this before that opinion came back," Ridenour said.

T. Scott Miller, the WCTA's chief negotiator, has said the school board could use $11.2 million in its general fund balance and $4 million in federal stimulus funding to cover the WCTA's latest offer.

But during Tuesday's presentation, Markoe and Chief Financial Officer Chris South said those are one-time revenues that won't be available to fund continuous personnel costs.

South said he didn't know how much the school system would get in federal stimulus money nor when he would know. That money will be distributed by the state.

Of the $11.2 million fund balance, South said $1.2 million is committed to purchasing school buses.

Asked how the school system would continually fund increases in personnel costs, Miller said Tuesday that the school board could ask the Washington County Commissioners for the money.

Miller provided a Feb. 25, 2010, analysis of the county's budget, completed for the WCTA by a Rockville, Md., accounting firm, that forecast a $38.5 million unreserved general fund balance for the fiscal year that ended June 30 and a $54.5 million balance for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2011.

Miller said the school board wouldn't have to lay off anyone if the sides could work together to get extra money from the county.

Asked Tuesday evening about the county fund balances to which Miller was referring, County Commissioners President John F. Barr said he couldn't see how the county could provide the extra money to meet the union's offer.

"We've got so many projects that are unfunded and we've been cut by the state," Barr said. "I'd have to see that report. I have no idea where they're coming up with that kind of money."

Ridenour said, "It would be very difficult for me to walk in during this economy, to walk in and ask the county for extra money."

With the county experiencing 10 percent unemployment or worse, Ridenour said he, personally, would have a tough time asking for more money for raises.

No further negotiation sessions have been scheduled between Washington County Public Schools and the WCTA, officials from both sides said Tuesday.

The latest offer in the negotiations came from the WCTA on Sept. 2.

That offer calls for no salary or step increases, restoration of the June 2010 health insurance plan and benefit levels, and accepting the school system's proposals to maintain the current splits for health insurance premiums and keep the Reduction in Force language. The Reduction in Force section provides protections for employees with seniority when layoffs occur.

That offer also outlined how the WCTA wanted federal stimulus money spent, if the school board receives such funds. The WCTA wanted at least 85 percent of it spent on teachers, prioritizing that money to be spent first on step increases, then tuition reimbursement and then a salary increase.

On Tuesday, school board officials outlined possible short- and long-term results of accepting the WCTA's proposal.

Those included laying off 192 teachers, 317 educational support personnel or 105 administrators, or some combination of the three, according to the presentation.

Just the restoration of the health care plan to fiscal 2009-10 levels could result in laying off 54 teachers, 89 educational support personnel or 30 administrators, or some combination of those, according to the presentation.

Miller said the WCTA backed off step increases to save teacher jobs.

Miller, who watched the school system presentation on live TV, said there was a lot of talk about salary increases, but the WCTA backed off on salary increases.

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