MCPS, MCEA still negotiating new contract for teachers

MCPS, union still negotiating new contract for teachers

If no agreement by Friday, state might intervene

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Five months after a contract expired and more than 13 months after negotiations began, Montgomery County Public Schools officials and the local teachers union are still ironing out a new contract for educators.

Deadlocked over proposals aiming to give teachers more planning time, MCPS and the Montgomery County Education Association have turned to a mediator to help reach an agreement. If the two sides can’t reconcile the remaining differences by Friday, and they do not concede to the mediator’s final suggestions, an impasse will be declared, according to union President Chris Lloyd.

The case would then be sent to the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board, giving the state officials the authority to examine the negotiation process, proposals and counterproposals, and issue a binding decision about the issues still in dispute.

“Obviously, you’re trying to avoid that, and I’m hopeful we will be able to do that,” Lloyd said during an interview Monday afternoon.

With the mediator’s help, MCPS and MCEA resolved some outstanding disagreements, like the union’s request that MCPS be more transparent about how it’s spending funds at each school, Lloyd said.

The negotiation process has been contentious from the beginning. Union officials attributed the problems to lackadaisical and slow responses to proposals by MCPS. School district staff members said this summer that a new bargaining method forces the two sides to work from an “adversarial perspective,” which means “it’s going to take things longer to progress.”

Previously, the union used “interest-based bargaining,” in which the parties work together to find common ground. This year, MCEA is using “a more traditional approach to bargaining where we will exchange proposals with MCPS,” according to a statement from the union last year.

In an effort to avoid an impasse, the Montgomery County Board of Education in late June authorized a one-month extension of the contract, to July 31. When that deadline passed without a new agreement, the contract expired, but the contract’s contents were adopted by the school board as temporary policy, Lloyd said.

“That, I think, gives people some measure of security,” Lloyd said. “This way, you’re not working as a freelance employee.”

Last week, MCPS and the union also began what is called “impact bargaining” to reach agreements about teachers’ work conditions when school buildings reopen.

MCPS this month unveiled a plan for the second semester that includes bringing students back for face-to-face classes, beginning in January. Students would be brought back in several phases, but the plan relies heavily on improved local COVID-19 health metrics, which have been trending poorly in recent weeks.

Impact bargaining could include what the average work day looks like to safety precautions needed for both staff and students, Lloyd said. Negotiations are expected to span several weeks.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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