School board chastised for contract action; Mediator says panel tried to renege on deal with city teachers union


An impartial mediator, assigned to help Baltimore's school board and the city teachers union reach a consensus for a new contract, wrote a memo last week chastising the school board for attempting to renege on a deal with the teachers.

The mediator, Mollie Bowers, wrote that she believed that the school board was asking for "clarification" about issues the two sides had resolved, including wages and health benefits.

An impasse in contract negotiations between the city's 7,000 teachers and the school board was declared in the summer, and a three-member panel was convened to resolve the dispute. Bowers, a Merrick School of Business professor at the University of Baltimore, was hired to mediate and write a fact-finder's report.

That report was expected to be used as the basis for a contract that would be ratified by both sides.

The school board voted two weeks ago to accept the conditions in the fact-finder's report. The union also signed off on it. Both sides continue to negotiate a contract that can be ratified.

But last week, Bowers wrote, the school board attempted to change the language in the report. "This is the first time in my nearly 25 years' experience as a neutral that I have had a party to a unanimous fact-finding report endeavor to alter the agreed-upon terms either by unilateral interpretation or administrative appeal, or both," Bowers wrote Oct. 6 in a confidential memo, obtained by The Sun.

Robert Booker, the city schools chief, said yesterday, "The Board of School Commissioners and I intend to honor our commitment in regard to the fact-finder's report."

He denied that the board was attempting to change the language in the report. But, he said, "There seems to be some misunderstanding as to what some words in the report mean," and he added that the board is attempting to clarify their meanings.

The fact-finder's report gives the teachers a 4 percent raise, retroactive to July, and a 3 percent raise in July 2000. The school board was given the right to competitively bid the teachers' health care benefits, but the benefits were to remain at least at the same level and type of coverage as their current Blue Cross-Blue Shield policy.

Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English said the union believes that the school board "tried to renegotiate the agreement, but a deal is a deal." She added, "We bargained in good faith. We signed an agreement. We respect [Bowers'] decisions."

Bowers declined to comment on the details of the memo. She said, "There is one thing I have to say, and that is that my biggest concern is with quality education in Baltimore City, and that is for sure true."

School board President J. Tyson Tildon declined to comment on the memo, but he said the board accepts the fact-finder's report. "We are trying to craft a contract based on that report," he said.

Pub Date: 10/14/99

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