Panel to revive talks with teachers

Baltimore school board, union still at impasse

July 14, 1999|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

With negotiations between the union representing 7,000 Baltimore teachers and the school board at an impasse, a panel is being assembled to resolve the differences.

While neither side would discuss in detail the issues left to be resolved, both sides acknowledged that salary is still a major stumbling block.

A month ago, Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English said the school board was offering teachers a 1 percent salary increase for the year, which the BTU said was unacceptable.

The union also had presented a plan that would require every new teacher to be assigned a mentor at their school. For years, teachers have left the city for other school systems, complaining they didn't get enough support from principals and staff to become effective educators.

Since school officials also have been interested in providing mentors for new teachers, it is unclear why the two cannot agree on that point. "We are looking at implementing new mentoring programs. We are definitely in support of helping teachers be as much as they can be," said Edie House, a city schools spokeswoman.

The panel will consist of three individuals: one appointed by each side and a fact-finder chosen by the two other panelists.

If the issues are not resolved by the panel, the fact-finder must decide them and draft a report on how to resolve the impasse.

But the arbitration is non-binding, so the school board has the final say on whether to accept the fact-finder's report.

State law prohibits teachers from striking. But they can stage job actions such as working-to-rule, refusing to carry out extra duties they are routinely asked to do but are not required to do under their contract, such as staying late to help a student.

When asked if a job action was planned, English hinted something might be in the works: "We will plan some during the summer. We have a plan of action, and we are going into that mode."

The BTU wrote to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick late last month, asking her to declare an impasse because the union believed further talks would be fruitless.

Then Robert Booker, Baltimore schools chief executive officer, wrote Grasmick saying the school board would not object to a panel being appointed. She declared an impasse June 30.

The current contract was signed a year ago after more than a year of negotiations. The two-year agreement, in which one year was made retroactive, gave large raises to beginning teachers to make Baltimore salaries competitive with surrounding counties. Beginning teachers without a master's degree are now paid about $27,000 a year.

Pub Date: 7/14/99

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