A confidentiality agreement is supposed to prevent both the Harford County Board of Education and the Harford County Education Association (HCEA) from discussing labor negotiations in public. Those talks are normally conducted behind closed doors and so far, they have yet to result in a teachers’ contract for the 2009 –10 school year. But Board Member John Smilko gave a robust presentation of what seemed to be the board’s position, at the board business meeting Monday night in Bel Air.
Smilko said “every other bargaining unit has settled for no COLA and no step”, referring to wage increases related to the cost of living and length of service. And he urged the HCEA to reconsider its position and settle on a contract with the school board.
Leading up to that conclusion, Smilko delivered what he called a “reality check” to HCEA President Randy Cerveny and the crowd of about 75 teachers who wore red t-shirts and filled the board meeting room for the third time in recent weeks to reiterate their theme of “Respect & Time”.
Smilko said he didn’t question the dedication of staff, but he felt compelled to respond and “review how we got here.” Smilko told teachers the economy was “in the tank”, unemployment was up, tax revenues “which fund your paycheck” were down, healthcare costs were up and while some cuts had been absorbed elsewhere in the school system, “the magic is used up.”
He told the educators a reality check was in order as they were not losing their jobs, their wages and benefits were not being gutted and their retirements were not being ravaged. Smilko added, “That’s what’s going on in the rest of the world.”
HCEA President Randy Cerveny later declined to comment on the specifics of contract negotiations, citing the confidentially agreement. But he did talk about the meaning of the teachers’ call for respect in the following email:
The issue of respect is not a new issue. Just think back to the process for Secondary School Reform. HCEA leadership and teachers have spoken to the BOE many times over the last few years regarding teacher respect and input. Teachers want to have input into the changes that affect the job they do with students on a daily basis. They want to be actively engaged in their profession. They want to make a difference for their student and their school.
Research has shown that actively engaging teachers as one of valued stakeholders in the decision-making process will greatly enhance education for all of our students and in the process, help the teachers feel respected and empowered.
If the Board truly wants to attract and retain highly qualified teachers in our county, it cannot continue to exclude teachers from any meaningful discussion of how best to address students’ needs.