Teachers seek to alter city schools pact Union to file actions to ensure members' rights

December 20, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Concerned that its collective bargaining rights are being restricted, the Baltimore Teachers Union wants to modify last month's landmark court settlement over the funding and management of city schools.

Union officials, miffed that they were not consulted before an agreement was signed, said yesterday that they would file motions to intervene in the case early next week in federal and state court.

They stressed that they were not joining the efforts of Montgomery and Frederick counties to overturn the consent decree. The decree would funnel an additional $254 million over five years in state education aid to the city in exchange for increased state control of the schools.

Union officials said they are seeking assurances that they would be free to negotiate a contract with the city for the current school year, that teachers' aides would still be covered by collective bargaining pacts under the new agreement and that rights such as teacher tenure would be continued.

"Be clear, we do not want to stop this consent decree. We know what needs there are," said Marcia Brown, president of the union, which represents some 8,500 city teachers and teachers' aides. "But there are some issues that greatly concern us."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that city attorneys have told him the state was going to write a letter to "reassure" the union about its rights under the settlement.

"That may satisfy some of their concerns and quite possibly avoid a battle in court over this," the mayor said during his weekly news conference.

Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill, an assistant attorney general, said state lawyers "certainly will talk to the unions" but declined to say whether the state would oppose their motion.

"If we can allay their concerns without them filing a motion, that's the most desirable outcome," he said.

The Nov. 26 decree settled three lawsuits in federal and state courts over funding and management of city schools and the adequacy of the city's special education services. The settlement is contingent upon approval by the state legislature of additional funding and a new management structure.

It would establish a new school board -- jointly appointed by the mayor and the governor -- to replace the current mayorally appointed board, and would give the new board "complete control of all personnel" matters, including negotiation of union contracts beginning June 1.

It also would prohibit the existing school board from entering into contracts, "except in the ordinary course of business."

Officials of the union, which has been working to extend its previous contract since July, say they want language to spell out that a contract can be negotiated for the current year. A recent letter from the city's labor commissioner to the union said the city is willing to continue talks, but that any agreement might be subject to court review.

BTU officials also say they want to ensure the union status of some 1,500 teachers' aides and other employees such as school police and cafeteria workers, whose right to collective bargaining is guaranteed by city law but who would no longer be city employees under the new agreement. Teachers are guaranteed bargaining rights under state law.

"There was no attempt at all to bring us" into the settlement talks that led to the consent decree, Brown said. "We are forced to take a position to protect the people who we represent.

This month, Montgomery and Frederick counties urged the state's highest court to void the settlement, saying they should have been included in the talks because taxpayers in their jurisdictions are affected.

On Wednesday, Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary joined in criticism of the agreement, telling his jurisdiction's legislators that the issue should be decided in the General Assembly, not the courts.

Pub Date: 12/20/96

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