Board of Education District 5 candidate Valerie Coll speaks at an MCEA press conference Thursday

Tension continues to rise between Montgomery County Public Schools officials and the county teachers union as the two parties fail to reach a consensus on ground rules for upcoming contract negotiations.

The Montgomery County Education Association held a press conference Thursday afternoon to express its demands that MCPS make collective bargaining negotiations an open process.

“We’re really just trying to get MCPS to even come to the table. We want to allow our members the opportunity to observe bargaining at every step of the process, and that is something that we have been told is not going to happen. We’re a little bit confused by that because that is what happened last time. Our members had full access to all of our bargaining sessions last time so we would like that to continue,” said Danillya Wilson, MCEA secretary and elementary school teacher.

MCEA representatives said they’ve been working with MCPS since June to establish ground rules for contract negotiations but have been unsuccessful.

MCPS responded in a letter from Superintendent Monifa B. McKnight sent Thursday to all MCPS staff and posted on the school system’s website.

McKnight wrote that “… an unwillingness on the part of teacher association leaders to agree on basic ground rules is preventing us from moving forward. We have shared our interest in honest and transparent negotiations and offered multiple opportunities for public, open engagement. Negotiators have turned down this offer as not enough,” McKnight wrote. 

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Tensions between the MCEA, which represents the district’s 14,000 teachers, and MCPS leadership have increased in recent years due to a number of issues and as the union repeatedly called out the district for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, union leaders threw their support behind challengers in the upcoming school board elections, saying that “the issues currently plaguing our school system are a collective failure of each incumbent during their time in office.”

Several public officials and candidates for local office were in attendance at MCEA’s press conference, including state Del. Gabriel Acevero, County Council District 5 candidate Kristin Mink, and school board candidates Valerie Coll, who is running in District 5, and Julie Yang, who is running in District 3.

“We need to have a transparent board willing to engage with all of its employees,” said Coll, who taught in MCPS for over 30 years before retiring in 2021.

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Wilson asked for the Board of Education to look at the reasons why teachers are leaving the school system and the profession. Between Sept. 1, 2021, and July 7, 2022, 1,070 MCPS teachers resigned or retired, compared to 775 during the same time period the prior year. 

“This Board of Education should not be resorting to union-busting tactics in an attempt to silence our collective voice,” Wilson said.

Since the parties have not agreed on ground rules, MCEA representatives said they have not begun presenting their proposals for changes to the contract.

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“Our platform is based on priorities given to us by teachers,” said Latechia Mitchell, a teacher and MCEA at-large director. “They include housing stability, they include better work conditions, they include safety at all schools. And we’re just waiting for MCPS to join us at the table and work in concert with us to build better school communities for all of our stakeholders.”

In her letter, McKnight said in her tenure as interim superintendent over the past year, she provided benefit enhancements to employees; McKnight took over role permanently in July. She listed these as including:

  • Step increases for eligible employees in March 2021
  • Salary rise of 1.5% for all employees in January 2021
  • Retention bonus of $1,100 for all employees in December 2021
  • COVID-19 leave benefit (unusual and imperative leave) not impacting earned annual, sick or personal leave accrued by employees
  • Increase of hourly rate for class coverage
  • Substitute teacher pay increase
  • Piloting a permanent substitute program
  • Inclusion of staff development teachers in all schools
  • Inclusion of reading specialists in all elementary schools
  • Expanding social workers, counselors, and psychologists
  • Enhancing employee supports;  and
  • In December of this year, providing a salary increase of 3.35% for all employees

McKnight said in the letter she is confident the parties will come to an agreement.

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“Working together, we will realize better results when we establish meaningful relationships based on trust, which will benefit all future discussions. I know we will reach an agreeable solution. That is my commitment and firm belief. I ask you to join me in committing to a respectful process that serves all employees to ensure we remain on track for student success,” she wrote.