Less than two weeks before the start of school, Carroll teachers ended an impasse with the school board by approving, 511-347, a new contract for the coming year.
"It was a very close vote," said Harold Fox, chief negotiator for the Carroll County Education Association, which represents about 1,300 teachers. "There was only a margin of 164votes. Typically, contracts have been ratified by very wide margins."
Fox said the narrow margin in Wednesday's tally reflected concernover events that transpired during negotiations, including the board's decision to boost first- and second-year teacher wages, which has "thrown out of kilter" the standard salary schedule in place for the next year.
Because of county government budget woes, teachers -- like county employees and other school workers -- were not given across-the-board raises for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Teachers, however, will receive increment and step increases.
Overall, Fox said teachers were pleased with the contract, which improves insurance and other benefits.
The board and CCEA officials are expected to formally sign the one-year contract this week.
"We do feel good entering the school year with a contract," Fox said. "Teachersare excited about going back to school and working with kids. We hope to build more positive results during the next bargaining year, which should start early on."
William H. Hyde, assistant superintendent of administration, also said he was pleased. The teachers' ratification, he said, means all five associations representing school workers have approved contracts.
"We're pleased that we can start the school year with contract issues resolved," he said. "We're looking forward to an exciting and challenging year."
Teachers and the boardreached an impasse in May over several issues, including board proposals for a system-wide smoke-free workplace and a plan to require teachers to attend some evening functions, such as meet-the-teacher night.
Attempts to resolve the impasse faltered in June when the boardincreased first-year teachers' wages from $22,414 to $23,370 and second-year teachers' pay from $23,311 to $24,000.
CCEA officials argued the issue of pay increases for beginning teachers should have been brought to the bargaining table. The board, however, maintained it had the right to set -- without negotiation -- beginning teachers' salaries.
"It's one of the issues we will continue to pursue," Fox said.
Teachers, though, like other associations, accepted the board's smoke-free workplace proposal, which will ban smoking in all school facilities. Hyde said the district will implement the policy the first day of school -- Sept. 3.
With that policy, Carroll becomes the first school district in the state to have successfully negotiated a smoking ban in its workers' contracts.
The CCEA has agreed to require, by contract, teacher attendance at the annual meet-the-teachernight, usually conducted in the fall. Fox said many teachers have and will continue to attend after-school functions.
Hyde said the contract agreement means the board can move ahead with other matters, such as forming a committee to study a proposal for a sick-leave bank,which would allow workers to donate a sick day a year to bank for use by workers who have exhausted their own sick leave.