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Prince George’s schools at impasse with teachers union in contract talks

The system recently reached agreement with four other employee unions

Students arrive for the first day of school in Prince George’s County at Deerfield Run Elementary School in Laurel, Md. on Sept. 5, 2021. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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Prince George’s County Public Schools reached an agreement with four of its five unions following a vote by the school board last week, but it remains at an impasse with its teachers union.

The school system lauded the agreements with the four unions representing administrators, principals, facility service employees and education support professionals, noting it approved “historic compensation increases” for those groups. Each contract included a 5 percent cost-of-living increase and a $1,000 retention bonus for eligible employees for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The contracts run for three years — ending June 30, 2025.

Howard Burnett, the school system’s chief negotiator, has previously said the increase is the highest employees have seen in the past 30 years.

But the school system has yet to resolve issues with the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, a union that represents about 10,000 of the county’s active teachers and other education professionals. The union announced it reached an impasse earlier in June, after it said the school system didn’t address the “crushing workloads and lack of competitive compensation.”

The union requested a roughly 8 percent pay increase instead of the 5 percent offered by the county. It also previously requested to extend planning time from 225 minutes each week to 320 minutes, but that proposal was declined.

“We don’t feel the school system has a realistic or strong understanding of what it means to serve our students in the capacity that they need to be served,” said Donna Christy, the teachers union’s president. She added that there are 800 vacancies that already exist within the system, and more educators will leave before the school system’s July 15 deadline to file resignation submissions, she said. The union’s current contract ends June 30.

The union previously ran a set of television advertisements that pushed the system to invest more in initiatives that would reduce class sizes and boost teacher pay. It held a rally earlier this month with support from Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D-Prince George’s).

Prince George’s teachers run ads calling for smaller classes, better pay

The requests for better resources has been urgent as schools across the country grapple with historically high learning losses incurred while students learned online. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also warned of a steep decline in teen mental health. Christy said classrooms need more investments than ever, but educators are struggling to support students because of the lack of resources. The union was able to tentatively negotiate pay over an 11-month period for student services, so that counselors, school psychologists and other student wellness personnel can support students during the summer months.

Some Prince George’s County educators are struggling with their own mental health following incidents of violence and weapons discovered at their schools. During the last few days of school last week, a 13-year-old student at Isaac J. Gourdine Middle School in Fort Washington, Md., was arrested after he brought a loaded gun on campus. The school was in lockdown for roughly 90 minutes. A teacher emailed Christy afterward in desperation, noting the heightened tension after a shooting in Uvalde, Tex., that left 19 students and two teachers dead roughly a month ago.

Christy said teachers email her almost every day, documenting how they cried before they walked into the school building and after they left because of the struggles they’re facing in classrooms.

“Teachers didn’t sign up to put their lives on the line, but that’s the reality they feel like they’re living in,” Christy said. “That’s not helping to keep people in the classroom.”

The school system has said it settled through negotiation more than 100 of the 127 items proposed by the union. System officials also noted some of the offerings reached in the package, such as a 66 percent increase in substitute pay from $18 to $30 an hour, and added professional leave days.

“We remain hopeful that a resolution will be reached with PGCEA and that our employees, union and non-union alike, will soon celebrate the highest three-year salary and compensation increases recorded in nearly 30 years of negotiated agreements,” the school system said in a statement.

The union filed documents with the state’s Public School Labor Relations Board. An arbitrator is set to help reach an agreement on the outstanding items. Christy was unsure when the process would be complete, since the state labor board is also completing negotiations for Anne Arundel County teachers.