Negotiations with Howard teachers continue as board signs contracts

Negotiations between the Howard County Board of Education and the teachers' union are edging further and further into the summer months, even as the board signed agreements last week with several other bargaining units.

At its meeting on Thursday, June 27, the board and Superintendent Renee Foose signed contracts with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which represents custodial, maintenance, grounds and warehouse staff; and the Howard County Administrators Association, which represents school-based administrators, administrative interns, instructional facilitators and athletics and activities managers. A memorandum of understanding was signed with the Howard County School Food Service Association, which represents cafeteria and satellite food and nutrition service managers.

The agreements are the result of six months of negotiations, said the school system's Director of Staff Relations Ernesto Diaz.

"It's a collaborative effort to meet the needs of all our students," he said. "In these difficult economic times, we were pleased to reach agreements with our employees that avoid furloughs and layoffs, and provide salary adjustments in the form of increment (raises)."

The agreements with AFSCME, HCFSA and HCAA include a full-step pay increase effective July 1.

Diaz said he was "confident" the agreements would assist the system "as we recruit and retain highly qualified staff and provide a supportive work environment for all employees."

The board also reached a tentative agreement with the Howard County Education Association-Educational Support Professionals, which represents paraeducators and paraprofessionals, but that agreement has not yet been ratified by its voting body. Foose recommended the board agree to the terms of that contract in good faith, which the board did unanimously.

"Doing so will ensure that our support professionals receive the benefits of the negotiated salary increase pending ratification," she said.

The support professionals union also received a full-step pay increase in its yet-to-be-ratified agreement.

At Foose's recommendation, the board also extended the terms of HCEA's current agreement in good faith, until a replacement agreement has been reached and ratified by the union. This way, Foose said, "our teachers will not lose the benefits included in the current agreement."

HCEA President Paul Lemle said negotiations "are difficult" but are ongoing.

"We plan to meet again in the second week of July," he said. "I remain hopeful that will agree on a new contract over the summer."

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