Howard County's school superintendent said yesterday that he will propose raises of up to 16 percent for the county's teachers in his next budget to honor the last two years of a negotiated agreement.
The county, citing shrinking revenues, has denied teachers the raise provided for in the second year of that agreement.
"We negotiated the contract, and I won't be the one to break that contract," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who will submit his budget proposal to the county executive in January. "I am doing it for legal and ethical reasons. We have a contract legally, and ethically I am bound to honor it."
Mr. Hickey said County Executive Charles I. Ecker has said he "would like to fund two step increases [averaging 4 percent] and a cost of living increase if funds are available."
Yesterday, Mr. Ecker, a former county deputy superintendent, denied making any such commitment.
"My statement still is that teachers and employees cannot go two years without an increase -- the size I don't know." Mr. Ecker said he "made no commitment to anybody" on the size of any raise.
Faced with declining revenues, Mr. Ecker and the Howard County Council gave no raises to teachers in the budget that went into effect July 1. The move denied teachers a 6 percent raise in the second year of a three-year contract and an annual increment averaging 2 percent in most cases.
The Howard County Education Association, representing 2,700 teachers and other staff members, has protested by withholding after-school voluntary services, such as chaperoning student activities. The association wants the last two years of the contract honored in full.
Mr. Hickey said he was prepared to honor the contract with the teachers even "at the expense of programs."
"There needs to be a salary increase, at least in keeping with the spirit of the contract," he said. He called on the county to expand its tax base by taxing hotel stays and telephone and electricity use.
"Other counties can levy those taxes and we can't," he said. "I am having trouble with that."
Mr. Ecker has backed off from from his initial intention to press the county's General Assembly delegation to back such taxes, saying he did not believe the support was there. A lodging tax failed last year.
However, Delegate Robert L. Flanagan, R-Howard, who supported the failed tax, said yesterday that he would introduce a similar measure next year. A 5 percent county tax on hotel room bills would raise about $1 million in revenue annually.