The county school board is asking school employee unions to renegotiate their contracts, but that promises to be a hollow process since the board has not a penny for pay raises in the $180.7 million budget it adopted Friday.
"The law says they're required to make an offerto renegotiate. It may be less meaningful this year, down to nothing," said lawyer Judith S. Bresler, the board's chief negotiator in contract talks with teachers, secretaries and instructional assistants. She has also served on the negotiating team with custodial and maintenance employees.
The board agreed Friday to send renegotiation invitations to the Howard County Education Association, which represents teachers, principals, supervisors, secretaries and instructional assistants, and Local 1899 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents school custodians and maintenance workers.
HCEA president James R. Swab said the 2,700-member union has no interest in renegotiating after seeing the formal budget action, but would make a final decision after receiving the board's invitation.
"We don't know what there is to renegotiate, but we're waiting for theletter from Dr. (Superintendent Michael E.) Hickey to see what they have to offer," Swab said.
James W. Hackett, president of Local 1899, said his 365-member union is willing to return to the bargaining table, but he wasn't sure what could be discussed. The union is satisfied with the non-salary language in its existing contract, he said.
Hackett said members are upset at losing the 6 percent salary increase they would have received in 1991-1992, but "Our people understand that if the school board doesn't get the money from the county, what can they do?"
Board Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna said the school board has no issues it would like to raise in reopened contract talks.
"We, too, share a certain disappointment in what's gone on" withCounty Executive Charles I. Ecker's elimination of money to cover employee raises from the school budget.
Hanna said the effect of many of the budget cuts is not yet visible. It will be apparent next year in situations such as "the aggravation factor when you're a teacherand there's no more white paper until next month," he predicted.
The school board faces an unprecedented situation in contract renegotiations, Bresler said.
Cases that have come before the State Boardof Education for rulings have usually involved local governments failing to finance part of a school employee salary contract, she said.
A teachers union and school board, for example, might reach agreement on a 5 percent raise and the county government would allocate enough money only for a 3 percent raise. In renegotiation, the union might argue that the board could pull money from other programs to make up the 2 percent and the board could agree or not.
"So renegotiation was meaningful under those circumstances," Bresler said. "What's unprecedented in this particular case is that the legislature and the county government have essentially said, 'We're going to cut your budget and the decision (on financing contracts) is not up to you.' "
If the unions choose not to renegotiate, she said, the school board sets salaries based on the allocation received from the county government.
1991-92 PUBLIC SCHOOL BUDGET
.. Category.. .. .. .. .. Amount
Instruction.. .. .. .. .. $98,955,180
Fixed charges .. .. .. .. 19,814,300
Special education.. .. .. 17,521,800
Plant operation. .. .. .. 14,994,340
Transportation.. .. .. .. 11,732,910
Administration.. .. .. .. 7,872,500
Plant maintenance.. .. .. 5,462,330
Community services. .. .. 1,628,640
Health services. .. .... 1,172,460
Capital outlay.. .. .. .. 869,000
Pupil personnel. .. .. .. 727,700
Total.. .. .. .. .. .. .. 180,751,160
Source: Howard County public schools