County Executive Roger B. Hayden uncharacteristically jumped into a 12-day-old dispute between the Teachers Association of Baltimore County (TABCO) and the county school board yesterday, releasing a strongly worded letter criticizing the school board.
Mr. Hayden's letter represented a sharp departure from his normal neutrality in school disputes. The letter was addressed to board President Paul S. Cunningham with copies to school board members, the school superintendent, County Council members and TABCO.
The letter was released after the teachers union and school board had agreed to resume stalled contract talks. The session was scheduled to resume at noon today, and both sides predicted an agreement by day's end. Mr. Cunningham and TABCO President Ray Suarez said they had reached agreement to resume talks by Monday. Mr. Cunningham, newly chosen president, said he is committed to "improve relations" with the teachers' union.
The school dispute began July 14, when the board shocked TABCO by imposing a "master program" to replace their negotiated labor contract that expired June 30.
The two sides had been unable to agree to contract terms after the county government in May refused to honor the 6 percent pay raise they had negotiated. Mr. Hayden and the County Council provided a 4 percent raise instead.
In imposing the master program, the board eliminated the teachers' right to grieve work rules through an independent arbitrator and a provision that allowed transferred teachers to name 10 schools of their choice.
Those two points were what Mr. Hayden urged the board to honor.
"This is the first time in the history of Board of Education-TABCO negotiations that the board has taken such a punitive position," he wrote.
"Continuing to foster a we-they, win-lose environment between the superintendent of schools and the Board of Education and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County will result in a lose-lose situation for the students of our school system and the citizens of our county. I will not accept this as a possible outcome."
Mr. Hayden said he felt compelled to become involved. "This is boys and girls," he said. "Morale [among teachers] is at best fair and most often horrible."
He also noted that the normal time for negotiations is long past and that teachers are due back into classrooms in a month.
Mr. Hayden has been criticized over the two tumultuous years of Superintendent Stuart Berger's administration for allowing the school system's image to decline without taking an active role.
He said yesterday that this dispute had taken matters too far. "My responsibility is to get involved," he said. "We don't need any more of this."