School board, unions get set to negotiate New approach calls for identifying issues before bargaining

'Viewing it as a pilot'

State report shows starting-teacher pay ranks 19th in Md.

November 19, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The Carroll school board and union leaders are gearing up this week for a round of negotiations they hope will be warm, rather than heated.

Using the concept of "principled" negotiations from "Getting to Yes," a best-selling primer about negotiations, the parties say, will provide a more congenial environment in which to discuss potentially volatile issues such as salaries and work conditions.

As negotiations for the next school year approach, a newly released state report shows that Carroll's administrative salaries rank significantly higher than its teacher salaries do.

The report ranks Carroll's beginning annual teacher salary, $25,537, 19th in the state. In the metropolitan area, only Baltimore, at $24,684, starts teachers out at lower pay.

The maximum salary for a teacher ranks higher, eighth in the state, at $53,013.

Administrative salaries rank even higher. Among the 24 school systems, Carroll's has the third-highest salary for a superintendent, the second-highest for supervisors (such as for each subject area), the fourth-highest for directors (such as for personnel or secondary education), the fifth-highest for assistant superintendents, the fifth-highest for assistant principals and the sixth-highest for principals.

Carroll hires about 100 first-year teachers annually. This summer, one in five of the teachers offered a contract turned it down, sometimes after initially accepting, to take a higher-paying job elsewhere, said Stephen Guthrie, a personnel specialist who will be the chief negotiator representing the school board.

Some Pennsylvania districts offer first-year teachers $30,000 annually, Guthrie said.

The county usually has five or six good applicants for each position, so no effect has been felt in the classroom, Guthrie said. But for positions in such subjects as advanced science and math and special education, Carroll will find tough competition, he said.

Five years ago, to attract new hires, the teachers and the school board agreed to "front-load" the teacher salary schedule so that first- and second-year teachers got an extra boost in pay.

"It wasn't very popular," said Ralph Blevins, president of the Carroll County Education Association. "If there is money for salaries, we'd like to see it divided a little more evenly. People have been in this system for a real long time, and we'd like to see it be fair for them also."

The new approach to negotiations is likely to prompt the school board to hold bargaining sessions behind closed doors. Carroll has been one of two counties in the state that routinely bargained in public with employee unions, but no proponents of such openness remain on the board, and the unions never have cared for it.

The open sessions were a holdover from the 1970s, when Philip Benzil, then board president, promoted the open forum. Although the unions challenged it, the courts upheld it. But in the past few years, both parties seemed to be meeting in public grudgingly.

Last week, the school board approved a change that gives it the option of closing bargaining meetings -- an option it had exercised in the spring when it reopened talks over salary and health care.

The unanimous vote for a formal change in policy, along with the attempt at a new negotiation process, indicate that the doors will be shut this time around.

The decision to open or close the meetings was made unilaterally by the board. But even Blevins contended that closed sessions could give negotiators more elbow room with this new approach.

"We're viewing it as a pilot," said William Hyde, assistant superintendent of administration, of the new process.

Hyde said that if the school board chose to close sessions, it could be a way to see whether the pilot works before adding the element of the public, which includes reporters and rank-and-file members of the employee unions.

Negotiations aren't expected to start until at next month. But leaders of the five employee unions, which represent teachers, administrators and supervisors, maintenance workers, cafeteria staff and teachers' assistants, will meet Thursday with Hyde to discuss the structure of negotiations.

Compared with having each side come in with carefully constructed proposals that are, by design, miles apart, this approach is less presumptive, Hyde said. He has been trained in the approach and attended a seminar at which Roger Fisher, author of "Getting to Yes," was among the instructors. Some unions have staff members familiar with it, he said.

In the new process, which the teachers union has proposed for a few years, each side first identifies its interests and concerns.

"If you can identify the interests of the different parties, you often find they're interested in the same thing," Hyde said.

Guthrie said that in principled negotiations, the solution the parties devise comes from collaboration rather than compromise.

"The solution may be something we hadn't even realized we could do," he said.

The administration is saying nothing about whether it might raise salaries of beginning teachers.

"The only thing we can do is put it on the table and say it's a concern," Guthrie said.

Pub Date: 11/19/96

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