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Teachers and board at impasse on contract


An arbitrator is being called in to settle the contract dispute between Anne Arundel County teachers and the Board of Education -- the second time in three years outside help has been needed.

At issue are raises, planning time, and the question of whether teachers should be told when students with patterns of violent behavior are put in their classes.

State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick declared this year's negotiations at an impasse late last week, according to Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association for Anne Arundel County.

The union, which represents 3,800 teachers, received Dr. Grasmick's letter Friday, he said.

"We just sent a joint letter [with the Board of Education] to the American Arbitration Association asking for a list of arbitrators," Mr. Paolino said yesterday. "Then we will strike names off the list until we agree upon one."

Talks stalled March 10 after more than five months of negotiation, and the two sides asked Dr. Grasmick to declare an impasse so they could call an arbitrator.

"The money issue clouded everything," said Donna diGrazia, director of staff relations for the county Board of Education and its chief negotiator.

She said the board could compromise on issues such as giving teachers more planning time, but insisted that school officials should decide on a case-by-case basis whether to tell a teacher a student has a violent behavior pattern. "I believe a student deserves a second chance," she said.

But money, or the lack of it, remains the central problem.

The $383.4 million operating budget adopted by the school board this winter includes money for step, or merit, increases for all employees; each step amounts to a 2 percent pay raise. About 54 percent of the Board of Education's 6,767 employees will qualify for the step increases.

But teachers are upset they are being asked to forgo cost-of-living raises for a third straight year.

"I can't believe [an arbitrator] will say no to a raise, after we've gone two years without an increase," said Mr. Paolino. He said the union is seeking a 3 percent to 4 percent raise, and contends there is money in the county's and school board's coffers to pay for it.

"Mr. Paolino's mixing apples and oranges," countered Jack White, school budget officer. "There's no money."

The surplus Mr. Paolino referred to was a rebate on health insurance costs that the school system received. "We can't count on that money every year," Mr. White said.

The average salary of a county teacher this year is $40,469, he said. Next year, teachers earning an average salary who qualify for a step increase will earn $41,012.

To give teachers a 1 percent cost-of-living raise would cost the school system about $1.8 million, Mr. White said.

It would cost about $2.5 million for all school employees, including teachers, to receive 1 percent cost-of-living raises, he added.

"Now multiply that by three or five, and you can see how fast it adds up," said Mr. White. "A 5 percent raise would cost $12 million. I expect anything the arbitrator recommended that involved money would be looked at with a jaundiced eye by the school board."

Even if an arbitrator says the school employees deserve raises, the Board of Education isn't legally bound to accept the recommendations.

"We haven't decided what our position would be if the Board of Education doesn't go along with the arbitrator's decision," said Mr. Paolino.

Teachers in Maryland are prohibited by law from striking.

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