Teachers union has small victory in negotiations

After months of arbitration, the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board ruled that the Harford County school system "engaged in bad faith bargaining in the May/June 2011 re-negotiations" with the county's teachers' union.

The decision was released April 2, and on April 5, the Harford County Board of Education filed an appeal in Harford County Circuit Court.

And the president of Harford County Education Association is firing back.

"Harford County's students and teachers deserve better than this," HCEA President Randy Cerveny wrote in a letter e-mailed for publication in The Aegis open forum.

Cerveny asserts in the letter dated April 11 that Harford County Public Schools should return to negotiating with the union.

"To do otherwise would continue to heighten mistrust, lower teacher morale and shift the focus away from where it should be — our students," he wrote.

Since the troubles started last year, Harford County Public Schools and the board of education have vehemently contested any negotiating in bad faith.

The appeal, which is calling for a judicial review of the labor board's decision, is one more step in declaring no wrongdoing.

While the labor board decided to uphold HCEA's allegations that the school system renegotiated in bad faith "by meeting its obligation to submit reconciled budgets to the Harford County Council in April 2010," a school system press release stated, it dismissed several other claims made by the union.

"The [Public School Labor Relations Board] ruling confirmed that Harford County Public Schools bargained in 'good faith' with HCEA during negotiations last school year by dismissing five of six allegations made by HCEA," the press released continued.

In January 2011, the school board and teachers' union came to an agreement for employee salaries for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The agreement includes salary increases for HCEA members — a 3 percent cost of living adjustment, step increases and longevity increases.

By April the same year, the agreement reached a speed bump.

The Harford County Council "rejected in its entirety [Harford County School System's] request for additional funds to implement the teacher salary increases in HCSS's proposed 2011-12 budget," it states in the board's decision.

In light of the council's decision, the school system and union went into negotiations in May about a potential increase in salaries.

No raises detailed in the agreement have been implemented.

HCEA filed forms with the Labor Relations Board that August, arguing the school system had re-negotiated in bad faith, which the school system denies.

In the board's decision, however, it argues that "the essence of good faith bargaining is for a party to participate in the process with an open mind — to be willing to consider and react to the proposals and arguments put forth by the other party on their merits, without pre-established restraints that necessarily dictate a rejection of those proposals and arguments."'

"The approval of a revised final budget by [Harford County School System] on April 13, at the very least, adversely affected the likelihood that HCSS's negotiators would assess fairly and respond favorably to proposals and arguments made by HCEA — and, perhaps more importantly, sent a clear message to these negotiators of their superiors' desired and expected outcome of the re-negotiations," the board's decision states. "Moreover, in early June 2011, before the scheduled June 16, 2011 conclusion of the re-negotiations, HCSS submitted the budget that it had adopted on April 13 to [Harford County Council] for final approval."

Because of the aforementioned actions, the board ruled that the school system "did not engage in good faith re-negotiations in May/June 2011."

According to Carl D. Roberts, executive director of the Public School Superintendent's Association of Maryland, the local school board has the final authority to make decisions after re-negotiations.

"This view was supported by the Office of the Attorney General in 2010," Roberts is quoted as saying in the release. "The stance of the superintendents and attorney general on this point was confirmed by the proponents of the legislation that established the [Public School Labor Relations Board]."

"The Board of Education of Harford County is looking to reach a favorable and timely conclusion to this process," board president Leonard Wheeler stated in the HCPS press release. "It is the responsibility of this board to make the best decisions for our students."

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