Carroll school negotiators start early

Unions, board are mindful of contention last year

December 02, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Less than 18 months after contract agreements ended the most contentious round of bargaining in years between the Carroll school board and five unions representing 3,200 employees, negotiators are gearing up for a fresh round of talks.

Mindful of bitter bargaining that stretched past the contracts' expiration date last year, union and school board negotiators have tried to leave plenty of time to reach agreements by next year's June 30 deadline. The local teachers union, the largest of the five labor groups, is scheduled to begin bargaining in two weeks, and negotiations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees started last month.

During the last round of negotiations, three bargaining groups went to impasse and signed retroactive agreements that left many employees feeling sour and many teachers boycotting after-school activities for which they are not paid.

The work-to-rule job action involved the staffs of 12 Carroll schools and some instructors at many of the county's 25 other schools before the protest tapered off late last year.

Union and school system negotiators say they are hopeful that the last bargaining cycle will not taint this one.

"I hope it will have no effect," said Stephen Guthrie, an assistant superintendent and one of the school board's chief negotiators. "I hope we've gone beyond the issues that hung us up."

Board negotiators are scheduled to meet Dec. 15 with the bargaining team for the school system's largest union, the 2,030-member Carroll County Education Association, which represents teachers, media specialists, guidance counselors and registered nurses

The opening bargaining session for the Carroll Association of School Employees (CASE), representing more than 500 secretaries, instructional assistants and licensed practical nurses, is scheduled next month.

And representatives of AFSCME, which represents 325 maintenance workers, custodians and bus drivers in the school system, began meeting with school board negotiators in the middle of last month.

Unions representing Carroll's 150 principals, psychologists and department supervisors and the system's 175 food service workers have not scheduled opening sessions.

"The issue is going to be money-related," Guthrie said.

What is shaping up to be another tight budget year could get a lot worse, Guthrie said, if the governor and Maryland lawmakers don't find a way to fully fund the Thornton education legislation passed last year. The law, which recalculated the formula the state uses to distribute money to school systems, would provide an additional $5.1 million to Carroll County for the fiscal year that begins in July.

But contrary to Guthrie's assessment that this round of negotiations will revolve around money, a negotiator representing more than 2,500 employees in the teachers union and CASE said that "a lot of the issues that employees want brought up at the table will be noneconomic."

"There are changes that have to and should be made in how we handle the day-to-day operations of the school system," Hal Fox said.

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