The Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the school board haven't budged for weeks on the only contract issue that separates them. But that did not convince State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick that the two sides are at impasse.
Basing her decision on technical details of how the school budget is administered, she denied TABCO's request for impasse yesterday, nearly six weeks after the union said the two sides could not agree on a pay raise.
Her ruling will make it virtually impossible for an arbitrator to examine the issues and make recommendations for a settlement, as TABCO asked. An arbitrator is called in only when an impasse is declared.
"I have determined that it is inappropriate to declare an impasse primarily because the Board of Education of Baltimore County does not have final authority to effect funding transfers," Dr. Grasmick wrote in a letter to TABCO officials.
When money is moved from one category to another within the school budget, the county executive and council must approve it, and they have already said they would not.
Now the union has three choices. It can accept the school system's latest offer, with a 4 percent raise. It can go through the coming school year without a contract, under a "master plan" imposed by the board that gives teachers a 4 percent raise but eliminates long-standing grievance rights, or it can try to resume negotiations.
"We are prepared to move quickly, we have a contingency plan," said TABCO spokesman Terry Zahren. He said it is the union's position that negotiations can be reopened. He said TABCO could have a response as early as this afternoon.
Charles Herndon, a spokesman for the schools, said, "We are satisfied and pleased that the state superintendent agreed with the board's and the superintendent's position."
TABCO and the schools initially agreed on a contract that gave the teachers a 6 percent raise. After County Executive Roger B. Hayden and the County Council approved a budget with 4 percent raises for all county employees, the two sides reopened negotiations. The school board's last offer was 4 percent. TABCO has argued, however, that the school system has the money to give teachers the additional 2 percent -- without transferring funds. It asked for proof that the money is not there.