- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

DENTON, Md. Teachers throughout Maryland have the right to collective bargaining. Education support personnel such as cafeteria workers, secretaries, custodians, maintenance workers, nurses and classroom aides also have that right.
But support staff members at public schools in the nine Eastern Shore counties are the exception.
Deanna Boston and Barbara Holmes say changing that is simply an issue of fairness. Miss Boston and Miss Holmes are presidents of education support personnel (ESP) groups in two shore counties Dorchester and Caroline, respectively.
"If the teachers can have a contract, why can't we?" asks Miss Boston, who is a secretary at Choptank Elementary School in Cambridge.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening says they should. Extending collective bargaining rights for ESP on the shore is one of his priorities for the 2002 General Assembly session.
"When you look at it, it's just patently unfair that a worker on the Eastern Shore that does the exact same job as somebody in a school system somewhere else in the state has lesser rights," said Mike Morrill, Mr. Glendening's spokesman.
The proposal is wrapped into a bill extending collective bargaining rights for school employees across the state. The support personnel proposal has scores of co-sponsors in the House of Delegates, and 26 out of 47 senators have signed on, so it has a good chance of passing.
The opposition is focusing mostly on other parts of the bill.
John Woolums, director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said the group has no position on extending bargaining rights to shore support personnel.
However, the group opposes other provisions in the legislation that would allow teachers to bargain over issues such as curriculum and class size. School boards have traditionally made decisions on those issues, and they should be kept off the bargaining table "so the paycheck issue never tangles with the educational policy issues," Mr. Woolums said.
Sen. Richard Colburn, Dorchester Republican, said he had not made up his mind about the entire package.
"I could support it definitely if we could separate the issue of collective bargaining for [support personnel]," Mr. Colburn said.
How did this collective bargaining anomaly of the Eastern Shore come to be?
The General Assembly passed legislation to give teachers and administrators the right to collective bargaining in 1968. Ten years later, educational support staff got the same right although the nine shore counties and Frederick and Howard counties were exempted at the request of lawmakers representing the regions, which are traditionally more conservative and less unionized. Frederick and Howard joined the rest of the state by the early 1990s.
Some say collective bargaining would not necessarily be an improvement over what's in place now.
R. Allan Gorsuch is director of the Eastern Shore of Maryland Educational Consortium, an administrative arm established 16 years ago by the nine shore superintendents to pool resources.
Mr. Gorsuch said superintendents and school board members on the shore don't think collective bargaining is needed since each county has developed a system to determine wages, salaries and benefits.
For example, Mr. Gorsuch points to a system set up in Caroline County in 1981, when he was assistant superintendent there. A council of up to 20 workers meets with the school board to discuss issues. Anyone can sit on the council.
"What this allowed was a lot of … involvement for employees, and it still works to this day," he said, adding that the system is a "more open give-and-take than what you're likely to have under collective bargaining."
But Miss Holmes, an instructional aide in a kindergarten class at Ridgely Elementary School in Caroline County, said the school system administration sets its positions before the meetings.
"The meet-and-confer sessions are really meet-and-be-told sessions," she said.
J.C. Parker, a field staff worker on the shore for the Maryland State Teachers Association, said shore support personnel would bargain for a lot of things, starting with wages. A full-time, first-year cafeteria worker in Dorchester County makes about $8,100, he said, and secretaries and teaching assistants often make $10,000 to $13,000.
Mr. Gorsuch said that while teachers' salaries must be competitive with other places because applicants for those jobs are often from out of the area, salaries and benefits for support personnel reflect local economic conditions because those workers are predominantly local.
"We think they are highly competitive in most cases now with the local community," he said.
Wages are only one issue. Miss Holmes said that in Caroline County, there have been cutbacks with custodians who were never replaced. Her classroom is vacuumed once every three days, when it should be cleaned every day. Kindergartners track in dirt and debris and spill milk during snack time.
"The head custodian is being overworked and underpaid, and we're doing custodial work when we shouldn't have to," she said.


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