Montgomery Co. schools chief, teachers union point fingers over contract negotiation delays

The superintendent of Montgomery County, Maryland, schools is blaming the union that represents teachers for delays in getting to the negotiating table on a three-year contract agreement.

However, members of the Montgomery County Education Association — the union that represents more than 14,000 teachers — said that it is the school system that is holding up the negotiation process.

In a news release Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Monifa McKnight cited what she called “an unwillingness on the part of teacher association leaders” to agree to basic ground rules to start working on a new contract.

McKnight said that school officials are interested in “honest and transparent negotiations and offered multiple opportunities for public, open engagement.”

According to McKnight, the school system had previously agreed to the following:

  • 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 through EAP and Kepro
  • In December of this year, a salary rise of 3.35% for all employees

At a news conference outside of the Board of Education offices in Rockville on Thursday, teachers and candidates running for state and county office spoke about the concerns of union members.

Danillya Wilson, a teacher at Wheaton Woods Elementary School, said the school system saw a record number of teachers either retire or resign heading into the 2022-2023 school year. According to Wilson, many left in search of better working conditions.

“The morale of those who remain in the work is lower than we can ever recall,” Wilson said.

Between September of last year and July 2022, more than 1,000 teachers either resigned or retired. For the same period the year before, the number was 775.

MCEA members said they objected to the ground rules laid out by Montgomery County Public Schools and cited what they said was a lack of transparency on the part of the school system.

Union members want a number of negotiating sessions to be open to its members and in some cases, open to the public, as well. That’s not new, said Wilson, who added that in past negotiations, there were multiple open bargaining sessions.

A number of candidates for political office also spoke, including Kristin Mink, Democratic candidate for the 5th district county council seat. Mink taught in the county’s public school system. She said the school system and the school board should see teachers “not as an antagonistic entity, but as partners in a joint venture for success.”

Among the other candidates present was Maryland State Del. Gabriel Acevero; Valerie Coll, school board candidate in District 5; and Julie Yang, school board candidate in District 3. All are Democrats.

The proposals for the new contract are not yet at issue, although MCEA members made a number of references to working conditions. The current dispute is centered on getting an agreement on the ground rules for negotiations.

MCPS is also negotiating with two other employee organizations.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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