School Board Faces Four Unions At The Negotiating Table Possible Layoffs And Recession May Complicate Talks

October 07, 1990|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

The stakes are high for the Board of Education as negotiators prepare to talk contracts with four school unions.

The Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County (TAAAC) wants more planning time for teachers and more money for newcomers to a county top-heavy with potential retirees. Principals are asking for a greater differential between their salaries and those of teachers. Overworked school secretaries would like to be paid overtime and taken out of the school nurse business. Cafeteria workers and custodians are looking for more money.

Board members will have their hands full, especially in the face of uncertainty as to who will replace O. James Lighthizer as county executive and fill the three lame-duck seats on the County Council.

The Public Employees Labor Coalition of Anne Arundel County, formed last spring, also means another new challenge in the negotiating game. The 10,000-member coalition of unions representing all county employees is gearing up for the school union negotiations -- the first since its formation.

All this comes on top of predictions from school officials that 650 teachers would have to be laid off if a referendum to put a 4.5-percent cap on property tax increases survives the November election.

All four contracts expire in July 1991.

Reminders of how ugly negotiations can turn are not completely out of mind. The 6-month work-to-rule job action by principals last school year meant canceled after-school activities and earlier start times for evening football games. But that provides only a hint of what could happen if teachers, bus drivers and school secretaries decide on some sort of labor action.

The four unions are prohibited by law from striking.

"Anything we can do, we will do," said James S. Bestpitch, vice president of the coalition and of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 582. "If negotiations break down and they need people to demonstrate, we will do that. There is strength in numbers."

Donna diGrazia, the school system's director of staff relations, will head the board's team in negotiations with unions that represent the 4,000 teachers and 1,209 members of the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County (SAAAAC).

William Scott, chief negotiator for the board, will deal with the Association of Education Leaders (AEL), representing 252 administrators, and the 1,292 members of AFSCME, which represents custodians, cafeteria workers and bus drivers.

"It will be difficult because there are four unions, and it is a political year and we have a looming recession," diGrazia said. "We are just going to have to devote a lot of time on our calendars to meet the demands. We've prepared for that. Our goal is a satisfactory settlement with all four unions."

Initial negotiation sessions have been scheduled on Oct. 25 for SAAAAC, Oct. 26 for TAAAC and Oct. 30 for AFSCME. No date has been scheduled for AEL's session.

AEL Executive Director Richard Kovelant said the two sides must first meet to address outstanding business, namely the establishment of a larger gap between administrator and teacher salaries -- the issue that led to last year's work-to-rule action.

As part of the current contract, each side contributed $5,000 for a study of that issue completed in July by the Hay Group of Washington, D.C.

"The study says that we should be tied in with teachers and given whatever they are," Kovelant said.

The two sides have already met once on the issue and are working out a date for the next session. Kovelant expects contract negotiations to begin in November.

The work-to-rule job action last year resulted in 5 and 7 percent increases over two years, but Kovelant said work still remains to bring principals up to par.

"The Hay Group calculated that the assistant principal makes 11 percent less than a teacher with the same length of service," Kovelant said. "The coordinators of education make 3 percent less, and principals make only 1.2 percent more."

Despite the whopping increase signed by Lighthizer three years ago for county teachers, TAAAC is not planning to rest on its laurels during this negotiating session.

TAAAC Executive Director Charles LoCascio did not give details of the initial contract proposal, but said the cumulative 27 percent increase in the current contract does not mean the union will back down this year.

"As far as salaries go, we have improved considerably with this contract, but we still want to achieve a couple of goals," LoCascio said.

"With so many teachers eligible for retirement, we have to have salaries to attract new teachers to the county and retain our experienced teachers."

The starting salary for teachers with no experience and a bachelor's degree is $24,347.

The fight to get secretaries out of the nursing business should play a key role in negotiations with SAAAAC.

"It is taking an hour away from the secretaries' day to give medication," said Dee Zepp, president of SAAAAC. "The legal problems are mounting. I have secretaries who say they don't want to do it when the label on the medications says one thing and the parent wants it given another way."

Teacher service

Of a total of 4,000 county teachers, 465 qualify for partial or full retirement:

* 724 teachers with 20 to 24 years of service.

* 326 teachers with 25 to 29 years of service.

* 139 teachers with 30 or more years of service.

Teachers may receive partial retirement benefits with 25 years of service, full retirement with 30 years.

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