Delayed contract talks between Montgomery teachers and school system

Contract negotiations between Maryland’s largest school system and its teachers’ union are stalled over a disagreement over ground rules, and the two entities blame each other.

The Montgomery County Education Association – which represents about 14,000 educators – wants the entire negotiation process for its next three-year contract to be open to all of its members, in the same way it was conducted in 2019, have said union leaders. Montgomery County Public Schools offered five virtual open sessions and two virtual town halls.

The union held a press conference this week outside the county board of education, where three union members shared testimonies of low morale among teachers due to high and unsustainable workloads. They argued that teachers were leaving the profession at an alarming rate and called on the school system to send a negotiator to the table.

But about an hour before the press conference, Superintendent Monifa B. McKnight emailed school system personnel, stating that “reluctance on the part of teachers’ association leaders to agree on the basic rules prevents us from moving forward”.

“Have no doubt, my team and I are working for you,” McKnight wrote. “A fair negotiation process is part of how we do it.” She pointed to previous negotiated terms as evidence, such as covid leave, an increased rate for teachers covering lessons when substitutes were unavailable and a permanent replacement scheme.

McKnight also noted that the school system has already entered into negotiations with its two other unions representing administrators and other school staff.

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Union president Jennifer Martin said in an interview on Friday that many of the initiatives McKnight discussed expired in June because they were part of a separate agreement with the union due to the coronavirus.

When the union and the school system reached an agreement for his current contract, which expires June 30, 2023, the union had some of the “best ratification rates we’ve ever had,” Martin said. She attributed this to the open negotiations, saying members were able to “better understand the issues from the perspective of management and our own members.” During this negotiation process, there were more than 20 sessions, she said.

Negotiations for the next contract are expected to begin no later than Oct. 18, Martin said. Many of the union’s proposals revolve around working conditions, school safety and the impact of Maryland’s Blueprint for the Future on growth opportunities and the salary structure.

Martin said she wants the union and the school system to return to a partnership, rather than the union being viewed “as an obstacle.” If the issue is not resolved, the Montgomery County union said it is prepared to file an unfair labor practice lawsuit with the state.

Jeremy S. McLain