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School Board needs time to review impasse panel report

September 28, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE

Now that an impasse panel has issued its findings and recommendations regarding a dispute between the Washington County Board of Education and the teachers union, the board needs to digest that report and determine the next step, school board President Wayne Ridenour said Tuesday.

Some of the recommendations in the panel's report require clarification, Ridenour said.

Those points center on health care costs and language in the teachers' contract that deals with protection for teachers with seniority when layoffs occur.

The school system and the Washington County Teachers Association have been in negotiations for about a year in regards to the last year in the contract, which is the fiscal year that began July 1.

Both sides presented their arguments to the impasse panel Aug. 26. The three-member panel consists of one representative from each side and neutral member Seymour Strongin, an arbitrator and mediator. Strongin authored the four-page report with input from the other two panel members, school system spokesman Richard Wright said.

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School board officials have said the school system cannot afford cost-of-living and step increases or to restore the health care plan and benefits to their June levels.

The latest offer from the WCTA requested the board restore the June 2010 health insurance plan and benefit levels, and prioritized how it wanted any stimulus federal funds disbursed.

The panel's findings state the WCTA didn't provide evidence the board could afford to restore the health care plan and benefits to their June levels.

As to how the WCTA wanted to disburse federal stimulus money, Strongin wrote that the responsible approach is to adhere to the prior agreement to have the board meet with its employee bargaining units to discuss the equitable distribution of any stimulus money.

Items the two sides appear to agree on, the report says, include no salary or step increases for this fiscal year, the establishment of a quarterly Common Concerns Committee, and the tuition reimbursement cap increasing from $498,000 a year to $700,000.

The WCTA-appointed representative on the panel, Steve Lenzo, concurred with the report, while the board-appointed representative, Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael, dissented.

Michael said he would send the panel an explanation of his dissenting opinion Tuesday.

Ridenour said he couldn't speak for Michael, but that there are parts of the recommendation that "don't make complete sense to us yet. We need to decipher what it says and how it impacts us" and the school system.

T. Scott Miller, the WCTA's chief negotiator, said the union has made major concessions and found the fact that Michael dissented "sad."

"Our people are making less than they made last year," when health costs are factored in, Miller said.

Miller said he was hesitant to make final remarks until the board understood the context of the recommendations and implications of settlement.

Ridenour said he does not expect the board to act on the panel's recommendation this week because some board members are attending the Maryland Association of Boards of Education conference in Ocean City, Md.

Because the contract dispute began before July 1, when the law changed in regards to appeal options, this case falls under the old law. That means the school board has the final say.

The WCTA has about 1,400 members.

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