Shocking teachers union representatives, the Baltimore County school board reduced the rights of teachers yesterday as it imposed a "master program" to replace the contract that expired June 30.
Under the program, teachers will receive a 4 percent raise, their first in three years, but will lose their right to grieve work rules through an independent arbitrator. Also eliminated is a provision that Superintendent Stuart Berger introduced last year allowing transferred teachers a position at one of 10 schools of their preference.
Meeting in a special session at school headquarters at Greenwood, the board declared that the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and the school system were not at impasse, as the union insisted.
"The board has an obligation to set the working conditions for its largest bargaining unit," it said in a statement released after the meeting.
"All they are trying to do is intimidate the employees in this system. This is just another example, and a real good example, of intimidation," said Linda James, TABCO's organizing specialist, who added that she was "totally surprised" by the decision. "We don't have a contract, and they can determine what they want to give us and what they don't."
Dr. Berger, who has made no secret of his dislike for TABCO, denied that the action was punitive, calling it "the culmination of the process." But an angry union leader called it "a slap in the face."
The superintendent conceded that his policy allowing teachers to specify 10 preferred schools "did not work. They all wanted the same 10 schools."
The board's chief negotiator, Donald Kopp, said the board was prepared to live with that policy, even though "it created a lot of trouble for personnel," but saw a way to correct it when imposing the master plan.
Ms. James and other union representatives, who did not speak at the brief meeting and were not informed beforehand of the changes, shouted angrily at Mr. Kopp and Paul Cunningham, who took over as board president Tuesday evening.
"It's been 48 hours, and the honeymoon's over," Mr. Cunningham said. Like Dr. Berger, he denied there was any punitive motive behind the plan. "My colleagues would have heard from me if I thought it was punitive," he said.
Mr. Kopp defended doing away with the long-standing grievance policy, saying that with no contract in effect, there could be no grievance procedure. Teachers still can appeal, but to school administrators instead of to an independent party.
The board has imposed a master plan twice since 1969, but only after impasses were declared and arbitration exhausted.
Neither the grievance procedure nor the transfer policy had been discussed in recent negotiations, they said.
The board and TABCO have been negotiating for more than eight months and had agreed on contract terms. But when the County Council approved the 1995 budget, it allowed for a smaller raise than had been agreed to by the board and TABCO.
In subsequent negotiations, the union asked the board to honor its agreement and give teachers a 6 percent raise. Union leaders said money was in the budget, and they asked the board to prove it was not there.
The school board held firm in its offer of a 3 percent to 4 percent raise. "We reached impasse in early June over salaries," Ms. James said. The union asked state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to declare the impasse. She has not acted, and the school system has interpreted that as a refusal to make the declaration.
The union maintained, until minutes before the board acted, that it was too early to impose a master program because administrative steps had not been exhausted.