The State of Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board has ruled in the favor of the Howard County Education Association, saying that the Board of Education should have negotiated opening meetings to the public before doing so.
In a decision issued Wednesday, Nov. 13, the state labor board concluded "that the topic of open/closed bargaining sessions is a permissive subject of negotiations."
Article 2C of the teachers union's contract with the school board states that negotiations will be held in closed session, but the board voted in closed session Sept. 26 to have negotiations in public for the first time in decades. On Oct. 10, HCEA President Paul Lemle told the board the union was in favor of open negotiations, but asked the board to sign a memorandum of understanding to waive the contract article stipulating closed meetings.
The board did not sign the memorandum, saying it was the board's prerogative through the Open Meetings Act to open or close negotiations, that determining whether or not to open negotiations was not a permissive bargaining topic, and that the contract article calling for closed meetings was unenforceable HCEA filed a complaint with the state labor board Oct. 14, asking them to determine whether or not closed meetings are a permissive topic of bargaining.
In its decision, the state labor board called the closed meeting article of HCEA's contract "a valid and enforceable provision." It also rejected a motion from the school board to dismiss HCEA's request.
According to a release from the school system, the board has filed an appeal to the labor board's decision, and the board and Superintendent Renee Foose "remain committed to an open and transparent process" for negotiations.
"When I became superintendent, I heard from many staff members, including teachers, as well as families and community members about the need for increased transparency," Foose said in a statement. "This decision to open negotiations allows every employee and tax payer to observe and understand the negotiation process. The board opened negotiations in the spirit of collaboration and transparency, which I fully support."
Two open negotiations meetings have already been held between the school system and HCEA and HCEA-ESP, the union for educational support professionals.