Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:50 p.m. Nov. 7, 2022, to include comments from Montgomery County Education Association President Jennifer Martin.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and its teachers union have reached an agreement laying out the ground rules for their upcoming collective bargaining sessions.
The agreement states that all 12 initial sessions will be held open for Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) union members to observe in person or over Zoom. After that, any additional bargaining sessions will remain closed, according to MCPS Director of Public Information Jessica Baxter.
As a result of Friday’s agreement, the teachers union has decided to withdraw its unfair labor practice filing.
“MCEA members showed their commitment to openness in negotiations,” MCEA Negotiation Team Chair Latechia Mitchell wrote in a statement released Monday. “We’re ready to bargain in an honest and forthright manner — and we’re eager to bargain a contract to improve the working conditions of educators and the learning conditions of our students.”
The agreement means negotiations between the district and the union remain “on track,” MCPS said Monday in a press release. “MCPS looks forward to entering this new phase of negotiations with ground rules that are foundational to successful contract discussions with the MCEA, rules that ensure a mutually respectful and fair approach for all parties involved,” the statement said.
Relations between the county school system and the teachers union have grown increasingly tense in recent years due to several issues, including disagreements over the district’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The union’s current three-year contract is set to expire in June 2023, and tensions have continued to climb as the parties prepared to negotiate the terms of the new contract.
MCPS originally offered five open sessions, but the union insisted on the need for all stages of negotiations to remain open for observation by union members. When MCPS declined to increase the number of open sessions, the union responded by filing a complaint claiming “unlawful delay tactics” with the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board alleging an unfair labor practice.
“We would have preferred to keep all the sessions open,” MCEA President Jennifer Martin said Monday afternoon in an interview, “but MCPS was not willing to go there.”
The prior round of contract negotiations in 2019 consisted of approximately 30 sessions, Martin said. But given that the MCPS budget for the next fiscal year is already being developed, she said the union thought it was important to prioritize getting negotiations underway. As a result, the union decided to withdraw its unfair labor practice filing.
Friday’s agreement and the resulting decision to withdraw the unfair labor practice complaint did not involve mediation, according to Baxter. “Both parties bargained and reached an agreement,” she said in an email.
“Everyone shares the same interest in getting negotiations done as quickly and thoroughly as we can,” Baxter continued. “This is a positive step toward ensuring a respectful and fair outcome for all parties involved.”
Negotiations for the union’s new contract approach in the midst of a nationwide teacher shortage and increased pressure to address school working conditions. MCEA has stated it will be focused on improving recruitment and retention, securing higher salaries for teachers, and increasing stipends to cover the supervision of extracurricular activities.
Contract negotiations are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday via Zoom. No follow-up dates have been set after that meeting, Baxter said.
The negotiations will generally take place after school hours for ease of attendance, according to the MCPS press release. If a session must take place during the school day, attendees will be guaranteed business leave without loss of pay. The union will provide regular updates on the progress of negotiations through its website.