Schools, unions agree to combine negotiations, but public not invited Closed-door sessions will hasten agreement, both sides contend

March 10, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Both sides say negotiations between the school board and employees will wrap up more quickly if the talks take place behind closed doors Tuesday.

Instead of negotiating with each group separately, representatives from each of the five unions will meet all together with the school board's lawyer and chief negotiator, Edmund O'Meally.

In the face of severe budget cuts, the five employee groups offered to go back to the table to discuss the 3 percent cost-of-living raise they negotiated with the school board last year.

The raise would have taken effect July 1. The school board expects to save about $2.5 million by renegotiating salary and medical insurance portions of the contract. That will keep the proposed 1996-1997 budget at the $140 million bottom line the County Commissioners have given.

The board voted last week to keep contract talks closed, on the advice of staff, said school board President Joseph D. Mish Jr. He said the decision was not unanimous, but declined to say how each board member voted in that closed board meeting Feb. 28.

He said he voted to close them, although he supports keeping negotiations open to the public in other years.

"It was just that we wanted to get it wrapped up and out of the way without a lot of public fanfare," Mr. Mish said. "Public negotiations are a play to the public, and both sides use strategies and grandstanding and it takes time."

Ralph Blevins, president of the Carroll County Teachers Association, agreed, and said he expected them to go quickly, in two or three sessions.

About 10 years ago, when the school board decided to hold public negotiations, the teachers union was against it, said Mr. Mish, who was a teacher active in the union at the time. Very few counties in the state do so, Mr. Mish said.

But both he and Mr. Blevins said the open-door policy has worked out.

"I'm not sure we minded it that much," Mr. Blevins said. "Most of the people who have attended have been teachers."

The employees offered to renegotiate their raises after a series of budget hearings that drew hundreds of people protesting the possible cuts in music, gifted education and other programs.

Superintendent Brian Lockard also recommended renegotiation as unavoidable, an alternative to cuts that would more directly affect students such as with larger classes and fewer programs.

The budget crisis seemed to unite the board, administration and other staff behind the goal of preserving classroom programs.

Mr. Mish said the board wants that spirit to continue, and not be hindered by possible grandstanding at negotiations.

"We wanted to wrap it up, move it out of the way and move on in a united front," he said.

Pub Date: 3/10/96

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