The group of teachers responsible for educating home- and hospital-bound students is asking the Board of Education and school system to open up negotiations to the public, following in the steps of other groups in Howard County.
"We think this is a perfect opportunity for open negotiations," said Tony McGuffin, president of the Howard County Home and Hospital Teachers' Association. "We think it will resolve an ongoing conflict."
The board opened up negotiations with the Howard County Education Association earlier this fall amid contention over the legality of open negotiations. HCEA and HCEA-ESP — the union for support professionals — are continuing to hold open negotiations with the school system. HCHHTA wants open negotiations, too, McGuffin said, because the current process of meet-and-confer with staff representing the board is "over-extended" and unfair. The group is calling for a more transparent process and increased communication between the group and the board.
HCHHTA is a group of 65 active home and hospital teachers who teach students who are confined to their homes or unable to attend class in a traditional school setting for a multitude of reasons, McGuffin said, whether they be medical, physical, mental or emotional. The teachers are adjunct, are not offered benefits and are paid hourly.
HCHHTA is not a bargaining unit. Its members don't have a master contract agreement with the Board of Education or the Howard County Public School System, but a memorandum of understanding.
"It's a somewhat unique situation," said the school system's Director of Staff Relations Ernesto Diaz.
The home and hospital workers aren't in a union because they're not full-time, Diaz said.
"We're mostly part-time, and we're all treated as part-time," McGuffin said. "However, among that group, there were six of us who were above 700 hours, which is considered full-time."
The workload carried by teachers in HCHHTA is as heavy as a teacher represented by HCEA, McGuffin said.
"We service some of the most fragile students in the county, and are charged with adapting school materials, modifying for students' special needs in compliance with the American Disabilities Act ... while maintaining contact and collaboration with several teachers, a guidance counselor, a variety of administrators and one or two parents," he said. "And that is the same for each individual student we have on our roster at any given time."
The teachers are working under a two-year memorandum of understanding, but that was set to expire in July at the start of fiscal year 2014. The board voted in September to extend the document through the year, but McGuffin said negotiations had reached an impasse over the summer. Diaz said meetings were ongoing and the last conference between the system and HCHHTA was in September.
"We're trying to get back to the table with them," he said.
The board suspended negotiations with HCHHTA over the summer as the system's auditor conducted a review of the department.
Diaz said he was meeting with the board next week to discuss open negotiations, and that everything in the memorandum was on the table for negotiations when they happen. McGuffin said HCHHTA is interested in a step increase on their salary scale and to contest a proposed cut in mileage reimbursement.
"The board is very interested in continuing to work with the association to complete this process," he said. "We're very willing to continue the discussion to reach a new memorandum of understanding."
McGuffin said his request for open negotiations, which he sent last month, hasn't yet garnered a response from the board.
"We feel the solution is for someone to turn on the lights," McGuffin said. "We're in the dark here."