'Radical' offer sent teachers Baltimore County union is skeptical

December 12, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

The Baltimore County Board of Education has sent its teachers' union a proposal that would radically change the way teachers are assigned, transferred, promoted and perhaps even terminated.

Under the proposal, school principals would have more authority to make personnel moves as the system moves toward "site-based management," which gives principals more power -- and more responsibility -- for running their schools.

The Teachers Association for Baltimore County (TABCO) got the proposal early last month during negotiations on a contract for next year. Those negotiations are continuing, with both sides tight-lipped about the details, as well as the overall progress of the talks.

Top school officials declined to comment on the plan, although one high-ranking administrator did characterize it as "radical."

Many of the county's rank-and-file union members did not seem aware of the specifics, either, and several school-based union representatives said they had yet to see the proposal.

In bulletins directed to the system's 6,000 teachers, however, TABCO has indicated that the proposal would erode many of the job protections that teachers have won over the years.

"The board proposal for the 1993-1994 academic year departs from historical precedent. It assumes a significant adjustment in attitude on the part of management as well as other employees," according to a statement on "philosophical precepts for negotiations" distributed to TABCO members on Nov. 5.

That same bulletin says that the school board is "advocating a greater level of empowerment for the school community in general and for teachers in particular. The board will place in the hands of school personnel the authority to respond to challenges," including budget and staffing decisions.

"In order to accomplish this . . . the board is resolved to remove contract language that impedes achievement of these goals," the statement concludes.

Another TABCO bulletin, dated Nov. 17, asks, "Can we trust a board of education that proposes to make the superintendent the sole determiner of layoffs and transfers? Can we trust a board of education that proposes to make the superintendent the sole determiner of voluntary and involuntary transfers?"

The present contract, which expires June 30, 1993, spells out the procedures for teachers who request transfers and imposes seniority restrictions in the event of layoffs. But the board's proposal would eliminate those, as well as some appeal processes, said one source close to the negotiations.

The latest TABCO bulletin says the proposal would also give the superintendent far more power to select teachers for promotion to principal and vice-principal, eliminating what now amounts to a lengthy apprenticeship program.

School board President Rosalie Hellman said it would "be very inappropriate" for her to comment on the negotiations.

Superintendent of Schools Stuart Berger did not return a reporter's phone calls about the negotiations.

And the school system's chief negotiator, Randall Grimsley, said, "I'm really not in a position to comment at this point. It's really a problem-solving process; you take them one at a time. Most of the time, it comes together."

TABCO spokeswoman Linaya Yates-Lea said the sides are still "fairly far apart" after a negotiating session this week.

One more negotiating session is scheduled, for Monday, the day before the Dec. 15 deadline for settling contract questions.

But if both sides agree, talks could go on. "More often than not, we have agreed to continue," said Mr. Grimsley

Because Dr. Berger is new and site-based management still in its infancy, this is a year of "major educational change in Baltimore County," said TABCO Vice President Ray Suarez. That change has spawned tensions that are "the key element of the negotiations."

But "we want trust rather than fear," said Mr. Suarez. "We want to work with people rather than for people."

The school board is also negotiating with employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Baltimore County Instructional Assistants and Clerical Employees Inc.

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