SNOW HILL – A law that would give a state board power over teacher salary negotiations would reduce local authority over the schools budget, the Worcester County Commissioners concluded this week, deciding they could not support it.
The proposed legislation, called the Fairness in Negotiations Act, would establish a public school state labor relations board to handle issues between teachers unions and county school boards, taking over the function of the county agency in some case, when a teachers union and a school board cannot come to an agreement.
The board could also handle issues on staff assignments and transfers that come up during collective bargaining, as well as staff discipline and discharge appeals.
Normally and currently, the school board in question decides an impasse in negotiations.
The bill was first introduced in the 2009 session of the Maryland General Assembly, but failed to pass. However, this year is an election year, and the teachers unions have had an entire year to lobby state politicians and amass donation funds, Commissioner Judy Boggs pointed out.
The Worcester County Board of Education said publicly it opposes the Fairness in Negotiations Act.
The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) also opposes the legislation, as does state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, Boggs said.
According to county administrator Gerry Mason, this labor relations board would be heavily influenced by the teachers’ unions.
MACo is asking for an amendment to the bill that would add two people to the five-person committee under consideration. As the legislation under consideration stands right now, the labor board would be made up of five people, two from teachers unions, two from the state board of education, and one at large.
MACo is calling for two additional positions, which would be filled by the counties.
“That may have a chance of passing,” Boggs said.
The bill is moving rapidly through the General Assembly. “The bill may very well get passed,” Mason said.
Boggs agreed that the Fairness in Negotiations legislation is “on track to pass.”
The proposed negotiations bill is now under consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee. The chair of that committee is a signatory of the bill, Mason said.
“Why would we want to transfer any local authority to the state?” asked Commission President Bud Church.
The commissioners expressed concern that the state labor relations board could require school systems and county governments to increase teacher salaries, which would in turn require the county to provide more money to the schools, or require that the funding necessary be taken from other needs such as textbooks.
Boggs pointed out a scenario where the state labor relations board awarded county teachers more pay could also create tensions between teachers and other county employees.
The commissioners have historically made a point of giving Worcester government staff, cafeteria workers and teachers the same increases in pay.
The commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the Fairness in Negotiations legislation currently in the Maryland General Assembly.
“We’re not in favor of this legislation,” said Church.
“How can somebody come in and tell us how to spend our money?” Commissioner Louise Gulyas asked.