Aug. 13—Nearly all Frederick County teachers are back at work. And for the first time in more than a decade, they do so without a contract.
The county Board of Education and the union that represents its teachers are at an impasse in negotiations and will soon be headed into mediation proceedings.
But in the meantime, teachers aren't afforded the protections of a negotiated contract, and most won't receive the cost-of-living or step raises they were due, said Frederick County Teachers Association President Missy Dirks.
"It's very frustrating," Dirks said. "Not having a contract makes them feel undervalued by their employer and uneasy."
Teachers spent more than a month waiting on the state Public Schools Labor Relations Board to affirm the impasse. Mediation couldn't get rolling until that happened, leaving teachers in the dark about a timeline.
The PSLRB acknowledged the impasse Thursday, which means the FCTA and FCPS have five days to select a mediator and two weeks to begin mediation, a process in which an impartial third party can attempt to nudge them toward agreement. If that fails, they'll turn to arbitration, in which the parties cede authority to an arbitrator who will make a final decision on the dispute.
For the time being, Dirks said, the board and the FCTA are unofficially operating under the conditions of their previous contract.
The board and the FCTA haven't had to endure formal impasse proceedings since 2007, said former board president and current county executive candidate Daryl Boffman. Dirks said that in the past, step raises — which are doled out annually as each teacher gains more experience — have been awarded even before the rest of the contract was finalized.
"[Teachers] are frustrated with the Board of Education, because the step isn't really in question. It's other things around the step that are in question," Dirks said. "In the past ... even if we hadn't settled yet, they have instituted the step. But they are not doing that this year."
When reached for comment, Boffman said Dirks' recollection of the way step raises were handled during previous impasse proceedings "sounds correct to me."
Brad Young, the board's longest-tenured member, hasn't dealt with an impasse in his 11 years in the role. If he had been on the board during its last impasse with the FCTA, he said, he wouldn't have supported instituting step raises without settling on a contract first.
"It's all one package, which includes the language and the salary," Young said. "If there's one piece of [the contract] that's unresolved, then it's all unresolved."
When the FCTA eventually reaches an agreement with FCPS, Dirks said, they're going to fight to have teachers retroactively paid to make up for the raises they otherwise would have been afforded when they started work.
Karen Yoho, the board's vice president, said the current board's decision to withhold step raises came from the negotiating team advising board members. She was a teacher in Frederick County up until three years ago, she said, and is used to being on the same "team" as the educators.
"Negotiations have to put you on opposite sides of the issue," she said, "which I don't yet find comfortable."
When Boffman was president of the board, he began a process referred to as "three-on-three" in an effort to avoid future impasses. Under three-on-three, three members from each side meet and discuss the contract directly rather than communicating solely through their appointed negotiators.
That's worked in the past, Dirks said, bringing FCPS and the FCTA back from the brink of impasse. This time, it failed.
"I was hoping that would never happen again," Boffman said.
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