Teacher unions seek consensus on legislation Cooperation: Pensions are likely to become a critical issue for state lawmakers now that the two groups have put aside their rivalry to work together on an agenda for the General Assembly.

The Political Game

August 26, 1997|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

TWO LONG-WARRING teacher unions -- at odds for more than 30 years -- have agreed to sit down in an effort to present a united front when the General Assembly convenes in January.

Bearing olive branches are the leaders of the Maryland State Teachers Association, the larger of the two with 45,000 members, and the Federation of Maryland Teachers & Public Employees. It has a membership of nearly 11,000, including the 7,400 members of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

"It doesn't mean a merger is imminent, but we are no longer viewing ourselves as rival organizations," MSTA President Karl K. Pence said last week.

"We're talking about working together finding those areas where we can cooperate," said Thomas O. Flood, administrator of the Federation of Maryland Teachers & Public Employees.

In the new spirit of cooperation, six representatives of each union will be at the table this fall developing a legislative agenda that will be put to the test Dec. 13, when leaders present it to members.

High on the list of priorities in Annapolis will be the issue of pensions -- Maryland's are among the worst in the nation for teachers and state employees -- as well as student performance, teacher qualifications and standards, and staff development, union officials said.

The pension issue could end up being politically costly for legislators. In the 1986 state elections, teacher unions campaigned vigorously, bitterly and with success against lawmakers who had voted to scale back pension benefits.

The effort between the two state unions mirrors a mating dance on the national level between the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers AFL-CIO, which have been holding on-again, off-again merger discussions for nearly four years.

In Maryland, the MSTA is affiliated with the National Education Association, while the state AFT affiliate is the Federation of Maryland Teachers & Public Employees.

Each is expected to make its own endorsements in next year's state elections, but there is talk of uniting behind some candidates -- particularly those incumbents who made the tough vote for a five-year, $254 million aid package for Baltimore schools when the General Assembly decided that divisive issue.

"Many legislators cast a very good vote for the state of Maryland, instead of in a very narrow, politically self-protective way," said Pence, whose membership is primarily suburban and rural teachers.

"That delegate needs people in his hometown, like teachers, to say, 'It's a good vote for Baltimore, but it's also a good vote for the whole state,' " he said.

First director named for Legislative Services

The folks who make the General Assembly look good have a new boss.

Karl S. Aro, a longtime analyst and head of research for the legislature, was named last week as the first executive director of the new Department of Legislative Services.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. announced the appointment after a bipartisan screening committee of legislators reviewed more than 200 resumes from around the nation and recommended him.

Aro, who has worked 18 years for the legislature, takes the $104,000-a-year post Monday.

"The immediate challenge is to continue to provide to the General Assembly the level of service they've come to expect," said Aro, 44, of Silver Spring.

It is no small effort. The agency has a $22.5 million annual budget and nearly 400 employees during the 90-day legislative session.

Aro's department -- created this year by combining the Department of Fiscal Services, Department of Legislative Reference and the Office of Legislative Data Processing -- is the support system for lawmakers.

The men and women of the department are charged with digesting the state's annual budget, evaluating public policy and advising on the impact of changes in the law.

Outside of Annapolis, they are virtually anonymous, but around State Circle they are known as the brains of the operation.

Also named last week to a key position in the department was Warren G. Deschenaux. He, too, has worked for the legislature for 18 years -- the past seven overseeing the analyses of the state's annual operating budget.

Deschenaux, 44, an Annapolis resident and lawyer, will be director of the department's new Office of Policy Analysis -- made up of all the legislature's analysts, committee staff, bill-drafters and researchers.

The merger of the three agencies coincided with the retirement this year of William S. Ratchford II, the former director of fiscal services, and F. Carvel Payne, the former director of legislative reference.

Ratchford, the legislature's highly regarded fiscal wizard, has been the contractual interim director of the department since the law creating it took effect July 1. After 29 years, his last day of state service is Friday.

Povich moving on at Common Cause

Deborah Povich, the government watchdog in Annapolis, is stepping down as executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.

Povich, 45, told her board last week she is leaving this fall after nine years with the organization, the last 3 1/2 years as boss.

She has been both applauded as a tireless sentinel and disparaged as a thorn in the side of lobbyists, legislators and other elected officials for her careful, unofficial oversight of state ethics and campaign finance laws.

Povich has volunteered to stick around until another director is hired, probably by Oct. 1.

Pub Date: 8/26/97

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