Friday was the last day of school for Howard County students and staff, but protracted contract talks between the school system and the teachers union are headed for summer session.
The one-year agreement between the system and the Howard County Education Association expires June 30, and on Friday the union filed a declaration of impasse with the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board.
The impasse could trigger mediation and, ultimately, binding arbitration in a dispute that has lasted much of the school year. It comes more than a week after the teachers' union voted to start a work-to-rule action, meaning many teachers refrained from taking part in uncompensated activities outside school hours.
Howard Superintendent Renee Foose has said union officials are "pretty much bamboozling teachers into believing they're not going to receive a fair package" in the contract the county is offering — a one-year deal with a 3 percent pay raise beginning July 1 and an step increase for eligible teachers of up to 6 percent. Foose said 51 percent of teachers would receive an increase in compensation of up to 9 percent.
Union president Paul Lemle said the step increase wouldn't occur until next March, when much of the school year has passed. He said the union wants a two-year agreement that, beginning July 1, would give teachers a 4 percent raise plus step increases, with another 4 percent hike and step increase the following year.
Filing the impasse means both sides will be asked to make their last offers, then mediation could last several weeks.
This week Foose blasted the work-to-rule action, saying that in the closing days of the school year, the union was "asking teachers to make decisions that are hurtful to our students."
Lemle countered that teachers were "not going to neglect anything like grading or planning. The truth is the school system's asked educators to do things that aren't terribly important — sponsor clubs, chaperone dances — and those things intrude on the things that are important, like planning for great instruction and giving students good, critical feedback about their work."
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported part of Lemle's quote.