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Union and teacher unrest is climbing due to dissatisfaction with current contract negotiations and no salary increases, and Calvert County Public Schools teachers are being encouraged to express their feelings publicly at the beginning of the school year.

The Spring Calvert Education Association Representative Assembly, held in March, voted to boycott this year’s open houses, and last week, a letter was sent to all CCPS employees, current members and candidates for the Calvert County Board of Education, Calvert County commissioners and state delegates, among others detailing what teachers cannot expect to receive this school year and what they can do about it.

Open houses occur after school at the beginning of the school year, in which a teacher will open his or her classroom to their new students and their students’ families and outline what can be expected in their class for the upcoming school year. Each school in CCPS has assigned open house dates ranging from Aug. 18, to Sept. 25.

Debbie Russ, president of Calvert Education Association, the union representing the school system’s teachers, wrote to teachers explaining the reasoning behind the boycott vote and why teachers will not be receiving any increase in salary this coming school year.

“Not attending Open House sends a strong message to CCPS that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH,” Russ wrote in the letter.

In a phone interview Monday, Russ said the boycott has been “a long time coming.”

“We certainly would like to resolve this contract,” Russ said. “It’s not good for anyone in the system, but teachers have so much work they didn’t use to have … they are being scrutinized more and more.”

Daniel Curry, the school system’s new superintendent, met with Russ and representatives from CEA and the Calvert Association of Educational Support Staff to discuss several matters of “mutual interest,” Curry said Tuesday. Open house boycotts were not discussed, Curry said, but the two parties discussed “how to make things work more smoothly.”

“Everybody is of the same mind that the fewer labor distractions we have, the better job we’re going to do for our kids,” Curry said Tuesday.

Russ said Tuesday though nothing regarding negotiations or boycotts was discussed, the meeting was beneficial because the association is “trying to build a partnership with Dr. Curry.”

Russ said negotiation discussions will resume after the school year begins.

The decision to not grant any raises to teachers this year stems heavily from the increase in health care costs from the school system’s health care provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield.

In February, Nancy V. Highsmith, then-interim superintendent for Calvert County Public Schools, presented the proposed school system budget for fiscal 2015 and said raises for teachers were not possible.

“My big concern is the health care costs,” Highsmith said at the presentation. “That has really grown, and I’m very concerned about that, and it’s a fixed cost, and we have to fund that.”

At the time, health care costs were projected to increase by 7 percent. By the time the school board approved the budget in May, the health care increase was at 13.7 percent, and an additional $3 million was requested from county commissioners. In June, the Calvert County Board of Commissioners approved its fiscal 2015 budget, which included an additional $1.9 million for CCPS.

“We’re going to have to go back to our budget and see where we can cut out another $1.1 million, and that will be hard,” Highsmith said at the June presentation.

In her letter, Russ notes that the increase in funds would have provided a half-percent cost of living adjustment and a delayed step increase in January.

“It is unfortunate that the County Commissioners do not have the authority to mandate how the money is used that is allocated to CCPS, and it is even more unfortunate that CCPS did not use these funds for salary increases for their hard-working teachers,” Russ wrote. “This action indicates that CCPS does not value their teacher workforce.”

Under the negotiated agreement with CCPS, attendance at the open house is not mandatory, though it is encouraged from both CCPS and the CEA. Also within the contract is a salary article in which all support staff employees are repositioned on a compressed salary scale at their next highest step, which was added last year, in addition to employees receiving a 1 percent cost of living salary adjustment. Until last year, teachers and support staff went three years without receiving raises.

Russ said in her eight years with the association she has not seen another open house boycott but said this action is a step in the direction toward another “Work to Rule” action.

The county saw teachers participate in “Work to Rule” in the spring of 2010 as a result of unsatisfactory contract negotiations. Any Calvert teacher who chose to participate in “Work to Rule,” in which they did not put in any additional work hours performed on a voluntary basis, did not work beyond a 7.5-hour workday.

Russ said, based off feedback given at the March assembly and a survey sent out to teachers, she believes a large number of teachers will boycott the open houses.

A letter to the editor recently submitted to The Calvert Recorder last month, signed by 75 teachers at Northern High School, indicated action would be taken as a result of the salary freeze.

“We, the teachers of Northern High School, can no longer sit by as the county again violates our negotiated employment contract, freezing our pay for another year,” the letter states.

On Monday, Curry said he hopes to work with the unions to prevent any responsive action in the form of open house boycotts or Work to Rule.

“Our best position is to continue to develop a rapport with our union leadership so these issues don’t have to happen,” Curry said. “… Our primary focus has to be student success.”

In another email sent by Joseph Sella, chief negotiator for CEA and CAESS, Curry was asked if he was going “to continue to maintain CCPS as a ‘union-friendly’ employer,” and in Monday’s interview, Curry addressed the question by saying there is only one possible answer:

“Of course the union is a part of how things operate in Calvert County and Maryland, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one way to do that, and that is to have a good rapport with the union,” Curry said.

snewman@somdnews.com