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School officials, teachers' union hope for smooth negotiations

February 28, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Negotiating representatives for Washington County Public Schools and its teachers’ union have set a May 2 deadline to finish a new contract that would take effect July 1, they said Monday.

Emphasizing a collaborative atmosphere after the fourth closed negotiating session, held Monday, the negotiating teams held a public meeting at Antietam Academy in Hagerstown’s South End to update the public on the status of negotiations.

No members of the public attended the meeting.

The two sides had some rough times last year when they were renegotiating aspects of the last year in the current contract, which runs through June 30. State Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick declared negotiations to be at an impasse in June 2010. The sides met with an impasse panel last fall before working out a deal in November that resulted in a one-time $500 stipend per employee to help school system employees with health care cost increases.

“I think it would be difficult for anyone to say that it didn’t have an impact on the parties. And I think we all have a mutual interest in doing the most we can to have open lines of communication,” Timothy D. Thornburg, the school system’s supervisor of employee and labor relations, said after Monday’s presentation.

T. Scott Miller, chief negotiator for the Washington County Teachers Association, said he was “very optimistic” both sides would meet the May 2 deadline.

“I think that the process is bigger than past disagreements or any kind of tensions that existed between the teams. We’re making very good headway so far,” Miller said.

One thing that is holding up talks about financial aspects of the contract, such as salaries, is the uncertainty regarding the state budget and whether costs for the state pension plan, which includes teachers’ pensions, could start shifting to local governments in the coming fiscal year, Thornburg said.

Both sides have agreed to “defer discussion of final figures” until they know the outcome of state financing issues, Thornburg said during Monday’s presentation.

Miller said WCTA members will participate in a statewide rally in Annapolis on March 14 to oppose the shifting of pension costs to local governments. The rally will be held in the evening, he said.

The length of the next contract has not been decided, but Thornburg said, because of financial uncertainties, multiyear contracts might be a thing of the past with the current economy.

Other issues include health care, planning time and tuition reimbursement, officials said.

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