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Carroll County Public Schools teachers voted overwhelmingly to reject the best, final offer from the school system Tuesday night, setting the stage for contract negotiations to cease as both parties head to an arbitration process.

"The vote was overwhelming — 347 to 2," said Glen Galante, a representative from the state teacher's union, the Maryland State Education Association, who was at Westminster High School to support the local teacher's union, the Carroll County Education Association.

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"It was our members' decision, vote," said Teresa McCulloh, CCEA president. "We have some frustrated, concerned members."

The union has asked the school system to present the union's final, best offer to the Carroll County Board of Education on Wednesday — the last hope, Galante said, of resolving the negotiations without an arbitration process.

"If they say let's go back to the negotiating table because we're changing our final, best offer, that's a possibility," he said. "I don't know; it would depend on what they say or do."

Failing a last-minute return to the negotiating table, Galante said, the union would work with the school system to file for "impasse," as the arbitration process mandated by Maryland law is called.

"We will be filling out the paperwork, probably jointly, with the district and go to impasse and file with the state labor board," he said. "We fill out paperwork, we give our rationale, they give their rationale, then there is a meeting with a mediator, the mediator listens; it's a whole process."

Filing for impasse could take place within the next week or two, according to Galante. If the process goes that direction, it will be the first time in more than 20 years that teachers and the school system have not been able to hammer out a deal on their own, he said.

"In previous negotiations, they were always able to come to some sort of tentative agreement," Galante said. "Years ago, back in the '80s, they went on strike."

CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie declined to comment on the union vote, saying he wanted to respect the confidentiality of the process.

The union and CCPS have been negotiating a new teacher contract since November, with salaries and step increases a major concern.

Although she would not discuss any details of the current negotiations or elaborate on teachers' concerns, McCulloh told the Carroll County Times in January that the current contract, which began in July 2013, gave teachers a bonus for the first two years and a 1 percent bonus plus a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment in the current school year.

The current teacher contract expires in June. McCulloh said in January that the union would like to see salary increases over bonuses and cost of living increases, which do not factor into a teacher's pension pay in retirement.

In the past, Guthrie has also expressed a desire to increase salaries, telling the Times in January that, "We hope to work with our funding authorities to create a five-year budget plan that gets us back to competitive salaries."

The Board of Education did include $8.8 million for teacher salaries in its budget for next school year that the board approved in February.

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