The Howard County school system has reached tentative agreements with the four unions representing the majority of its 9,000 employees.
The school system and the four unions - American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Howard County Administrators Association and the Howard County Education Association, which has units for educational support professionals and teachers - have been negotiating since November.
"I feel that it was a very collaborative process on both sides," said Sue Mascaro, director of staff relations and operations for the school system, who announced the tentative agreements at Thursday's school board meeting. "It involved quite a few meetings. I'm confident that the tentative agreements will serve both our employees and our students."
The proposed contracts are a month away from being approved, according to Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, the union representing 5,500 employees.
"It has to be passed by our board of directors, reps, and members," said DeLacy, who noted that the board of directors meet March 6, and the school representatives meet March 13.
The Howard County Administrators Association has sent the proposed contract to its members for approval, according to Mascaro. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was scheduled to meet this weekend.
DeLacy and Mascaro said they could not discuss any details of the contract.
"It's embargoed, I cannot say a word," DeLacy said. "Until we release it to our board, we cannot talk about it."
Mascaro said the new contracts will help with hiring. Howard County ranks fourth in the state for starting teacher salaries.
"I am certain that the negotiations will assist the school system as we recruit highly qualified staff," Mascaro said.
The contract includes more than salaries, according to DeLacy.
"It is working conditions, academic freedom, evaluations, transfers, duties, protection, reimbursements for taking classes, mileage, sick leave, bereavement leave," she said. "There is so much stuff in our contract. There are all types of things that cost money that are embedded in the language."
Survey results are in
A majority of Howard County teachers have faith in the leadership exhibited by Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, while many say that they have been harassed by parents, according to a job satisfaction survey conducted by the system's largest teachers union.
The 2006-2007 survey, conducted by the Howard County Education Association, drew 3,009 responses from school system employees.
The survey results have been released only to Cousin and union members.
The 29-question survey asked about morale, communication and trust, respect of planning time, student discipline and harassment.
Eighty-five percent of those surveyed agree or strongly agree that they have confidence in the leadership exhibited by Cousin; 60 percent felt that they had been harassed by a parent.
"In some schools, it was as much as 86 percent," DeLacy said about the parent harassment results. "The middle school level was the highest."
DeLacy would not disclose the two middle schools where reported parental harassment exceeded 80 percent.
"I want to wait and see what the [union's] human and civil rights committee says about this," DeLacy said.
Diane Mikulis, chairman of the school board, said she had not viewed the results of the survey but questioned the scope of the parent-harassment question.
"It is important to tell people what the question is asking," Mikulis said. "Some people believe that if [what] a person says is rude, that is harassment. Most of the time, there is a repeated element."
Mikulis agreed that harassment is unacceptable.
"Certainly that is not a good number," Mikulis said. "Even if it is one time, that is not a nice thing."
The union did not include survey results about satisfaction with the school board.
"It's a brand new school board," DeLacy said. "It wouldn't be fair."
Last year, 71 percent said they had confidence in the leadership exhibited by the Board of Education.
DeLacy plans to discuss the results of the survey during a meeting Tuesday with Cousin.