Teachers union irate over letter by Booker; City schools chief says he wanted to dispel rumors about contract


In the midst of an impasse in teacher contract negotiations, Baltimore schools chief Robert Booker infuriated the teachers union by mailing 7,000 letters to teachers last week detailing the school board's position.

The letter says that Booker wants to add 75 minutes to the workweek for professional training and competitively bid health care benefits.

The Baltimore Teachers Union accused Booker of trying to negotiate directly with its membership as both sides await a report from an impartial arbitrator. Negotiations stalled in late June over health care, salary and the length of the workweek, and an impasse was declared in July.

"The school board has used delay tactics and unfair labor practices and has sent out a letter that is inaccurate and intellectually dishonest," said Jamie Horwitz, a spokesman for the Baltimore Teachers Union. "If they think this is going to sway the bargaining unit, they are sadly mistaken."

Booker said yesterday he wrote the letter to try to control rumors. He said teachers had called his office to complain that the school system was going to cut health care benefits.

At the heart of the health care issue is some teachers' fear that they will lose the option of getting insurance through Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

In his letter, Booker said a joint labor management committee would be convened to recommend changes to health care benefits. The school board would ask for bids from health care insurers and would make the final decision, Booker wrote.

"The board intends to reach into the marketplace to competitively purchase the best value," he said.

But, Booker said, that does not mean that Blue Cross and Blue Shield would be eliminated from the choice of insurers.

The board also proposes to increase teachers' cost for prescription drug coverage.

Horwitz said the board has a "lot of gall" to ask teachers to sign a contract when so many of the details of their health care remain undecided.

"If these guys are going to reinvent this health care benefit as they go we have every reason to be skeptical," Horwitz said.

Booker also told teachers the board was offering a 3 percent increase in salary beginning July on top of the 4 percent increase that took effect two months ago.

This year's increase makes the city's salary for beginning teachers competitive with Baltimore County.

The addition of 75 minutes to the workweek would allow the school system to require teachers to take the equivalent of three days more training a year.

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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