Tame school contract talks could turn tense this week


The stress dots that many school officials happened to be wearing on the backs of their hands for "Wellness Week" didn't betray much tension during the first round of contract talks Wednesday through Friday.

When money enters the picture this week, the plastic adhesive-backed novelties -- similar to the mood rings of the 1970s -- might turn the green-to-black that signals high stress.

But knowing full well there is little money available for raises this year, the unions are focusing on issues such as contract language, health insurance and family leave.

"We're not getting any money, but at least we're trying to protect ourselves down the road," said Curtis Schnorr, principal of Robert Moton Elementary School and president of the Administrators and Supervisors Association.

The $112.2 million school budget proposal has no money allocated for salary increases for the 2,000 employees. However, the board may decide at its meeting May 13 to transfer money from other areas or from the current year's budget.

Teachers are asking for a two-year contract, with a cost-of-living raise built in for the second year.

Administrators are trying to fine tune their contract on issues such as more flexibility with vacation scheduling.

The board's negotiator and lawyer, Edward Gutman of Baltimore, called many of their requests trivial because there had been no problems in the past with things such as having a representative at grievances.

Richard DeLong, principal of North Carroll Middle School, said a contract is supposed to prevent problems from happening.

The family leave now allows staff to use their sick days to care for someone else in the household. Teachers and other unions are asking to have the leave available for immediate family, even if they don't live with the employee.

"Mom and dad are getting older," said Harold Fox, Carroll's representative supplied by the Maryland State Teachers Association. "This isn't the first time this sort of proposal has come up."

Food-service workers are in a unusual situation, with the money for their salaries coming not out of the school budget but from a mostly self-sustaining fund fed by lunch money and federal grants.

Also unusual is that the board is offering the food workers a slightly larger raise than the one they requested.

When the negotiators met with James Reter, director of business and finance, he presented them with the board's offer of a longevity increment of up to $1,967 after 20 years, compared with the $1,900 food workers offered.

"We were being very kind," said Debbie Bashem, president of the Food Service Association.

Reter said the money was available, and the board felt it fair to have the food service longevity in line with that of the Carroll Association of School Employees, which represents clerks and aides.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents maintenance, custodial and transportation workers, and started negotiating about two weeks before the other four unions.

Thomas Kelleher, staff representative for the union, said members are seeking better language and job protection that could prevent the kinds of furloughs workers went through this year, although the furloughs are now being rescinded.

"No one foresaw such a terrible year for government workers," he said.

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