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Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA). (Courtesy Photo)

UPPER MARLBORO — After months of negotiating, protesting and testifying at board of education and county council meetings, the Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA) and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) came to a tentative agreement pertaining changes to teacher contracts and classroom investment after a five-hour bargaining session on May 22.

The negotiated agreements between the teachers union and the school system come as part of the PGCEA’s Bargaining For The Common Good platform which focuses on working with students, parents, educators and other community activists to advocate for quality public schools for all our students and fairness for teachers such as compensation.

Outreach efforts by the organization began as early as December 2017, and the PGCEA announced Bargaining For The Common Good at a Board of Education meeting on October 23 where members came out in full force to talk about what the platform meant to them.

“Bargaining For The Common Good seeks to create the schools Prince George’s County deserves,” PGCEA President Theresa Dudley described the platform at the meeting. “It’s really important that we create this alliance to reclaim our schools because this cannot be a 10-minute fix. This mess did not happen in 10 minutes; it took years and years and years of different things.”

The negotiations follow a series of events that PGCEA has held for more than a year to raise awareness and bring their platform to the forefront of PGCPS’ priorities. Of those awareness platforms, Occupy Sasscer promoted teachers to come out to a Board of Education meeting at the Sasscer Administration Building to protest last year, in addition to marching in the Greenbelt Labor Day Parade, testifying in front of the county council and their Teacher Un-Appreciation Day protest where they picketed at several school locations throughout the county on May 8.

As part of the agreement, members will receive the pay increases they were neglected due to the recession, which caused missing step increases for nearly sixty percent of PGCPS educators.

Salary restoration will go to teachers whose salaries were frozen during the recession over the next three years. The plan will be funded by $20 million in budget cuts from PGCPS and the Kirwan Commission, which contained a recommendation specifically for teacher salary increases.

“We are pleased that the institutional neglect of our educators is now changed. Interim CEO Dr. Goldson is demonstrating heroic decision making, to retain and honor our members,” said Dudley.

In addition to pay increases, the PGCEA was able to agree on several other factors that greatly impact teachers. These include more planning time for special educators and  sensible workload to ensure more planning time for lessons and teaching instead of paperwork.

They also agreed to smaller class sizes, which will ensure that teachers can spend more time teaching as well as a healthy class environment that includes healthy facilities and proper staffing.

“We are pleased about this development with our teachers union and administration,” said Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton. “We look forward to the presentation of this proposal and the board’s approval.”

It’s a positive step in the right direction for PGCPS, Thornton said, and one of several positive happenings in the past several months within the school system. These include the board’s unanimous approval of their fiscal year 2020 budget, something that has not happened in many years, and the state’s approval of the Kirwan Commission funding, which Thornton credited as making it possible for PGCPS to provide the salary restoration for the county’s teachers.

“Our teachers have been very active in advocating for what they consider to be the common good, which is obviously good compensation and professional respect,” Thornton said. “So for them to agree to a package offered by the administration on behalf of the board is a positive step, and I hope the board considers it shortly and that the board would approve of it.”

Thornton also credited the involvement of the teachers, students and families in the community for their participation in the March For Our Schools where thousands of people came to Annapolis to advocate for more school funding in March and getting the $53 million from the Kirwan Commission’s Blueprint For Maryland’s Future passed and given to Prince George’s County. To Thornton, these are all “very positive signs” for the future of PGCPS.

Now that a tentative agreement has been met between the school system and the teacher’s union, it must be ratified by both the PGCEA membership and the Prince George’s County Board of Education.

“After several years of organizing our members stand up for what they deserve, we are proud that our most loyal educators have their value and worth recognized. This agreement is good for students, educators, and families. We are excited to work with PGCPS and ensuring that Prince George’s County community has world-class schools.”

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