In the words of one incensed teachers' union president, "It's war."
County teachers and other school employees are not alone in facinga fight over pay raises this year. Teachers and school employees in four other counties in the Baltimore area also are faced with losing pay raises because of county financial distress.
Some are fighting back.
* In Howard County, where teachers arein the second year of a negotiated contract, County Executive Charles I. Ecker has announced he intends to cut $8 million from the education budget, eliminating teachers' raises, said Jim Swab, president ofthe Howard teachers' union.
The Board of Education has reduced the education budget by $12.9 million, but included the raises, Swab said.
"This is the first time ever a county executive has not honored a negotiated agreement," Swab said.
* The Howard education association has organized a 7-day protest schedule that includes in-schoolmeetings, a rally when the executive presents his budget to the council next month, and "hundreds of teachers turning out when we addressthe County Council to restore the funds," Swab said.
"Agreements negotiated in good faith must be honored. It's war."
* In Anne Arundel County, negotiations with the Teachers Association broke down Feb. 14. The union is finishing a three-year contract that raised salaries 27 percent.
The 4,000-member union has agreed to give up a cost-of-living raise until next year but warned it might not hold to that agreement if other demands about non-monetary issues, such as defining teacher responsibilities, aren't met. For example, the teachers have argued they should not have to perform clerical duties.
The state school superintendent, Joseph L. Shilling, is appointing a panel to work out some resolution.
* In Carroll County, where the teachers' union is currently negotiating a contract, the rhetoric is tamer.The union requested an 8 percent pay raise for next fiscal year; theschool board offered 3 percent.
"The 8 percent is less than what we've come to the table with in a long, long time," says Maureen Dincher, president of the teachers' union. "We felt it was in line with what was, last fall, a darkening economic picture."
The union is putting salary discussion on hold while it discusses other contract issues, such as insurance, hoping the economy will improve enough for teachers to negotiate the higher raise, Dincher said.
Carroll Countywas predicting a $3 million shortfall, but if the economy picks up, Dincher said, "things may be better, and we'd be in a better negotiating position."
* In Baltimore County, teachers have not yet been asked to forgo raises, said a spokesman for the teachers' association.The association hopes it will get the 3 percent wage increase scheduled in next year's school operating budget.
Harford County teachers are waiting to see what County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann recommends in her budget, due to the County Council tomorrow, said union president Chris Haggett.
She has already frozen county government employee salaries for at least part of next fiscal year in an effort to avoid layoffs. Workers will not see job step increases and cost-of-living raises.
The 1,500 Harford teachers represented by the union have expressed distress over Rehrmann's request that the Board of Education freeze county school employee salaries for the next fiscal year.
The teachers are scheduled to receive 8 percent raises next fiscal year, beginning July 1, under the final year of a three-year contract.
The argument over pay increases isn't unique this year, said Karl K. Penche Jr., vice president of the Maryland State Teacher's Association.
But the discussion is "much louder and earlier than normal," he said. "And there may be more places where (questions over raises) are being asked this spring."
No teachers should be forced to back down on negotiated contracts, Penche said.
"In 16 years, I don't recall Howard County ever being in the situation where the county government turned its back on a negotiated contract. I don't believe it needs to happen this year, anywhere.
"We think that (the push to eliminate raises) is an unfortunate part of the rhetoric, because we do believe county governments have a responsibility to provide the necessary funds for education," Penche added.
"Negotiated agreements should be respected, and these contracts should not be summarily broken."