The county school board, facing a second year of grim budget prospects, is preparing to ask teachers to accept lower raises than the 16 percent it would take for them to catch up to their contract salary scales.
Board members said last week they are drafting a formal request to the Howard County Education Association to reopen negotiationson the current teacher contract.
The contract provides 6 percent annual raises and 2 percent experience raises this year and 1992-1993, but budget constraints eliminated teachers' raises this year. It would take a 16 percent raise next year to bring them up to the 1992-1993 salary scale.
Union President James R. Swab said he would not comment on reopening negotiations until HCEA receives a formal request.
"Our efforts are directed atpreserving what we now have," not allowing programs to be cut or class sizes increased in the current budget crunch, he said.
Dean J. Sheridan, a Glenelg High School mathematics teacher, said his reaction to a request to reopen negotiations would be that a contract reached in good faith should be honored. Last summer, Sheridan calculated long-term earning losses from the lack of a raise this year, figuring his own loss over 10 years at $40,000.
Prospects look grim for teachers to recoup both years of raises, or even the full raise they lost this year, Sheridan said. Given that reality, he said, "I think HCEA's position should be if we're going to renegotiate, it should be not just our contract but renegotiation with teacher input into how theentire budget is being used."
Teachers have ideas about areas that could be cut without affecting their work in the classroom, he said.
The possibility of reopening negotiations surfaced Wednesday as board members outlined the impact of budget cuts to the county's General Assembly delegation.
The night before, the board reached an informal consensus on $3.9 million in cuts to the current school budget. The board plans to cut $3 million to help cover an estimated $9.5 million county deficit and $900,000 to make up for cuts in state contributions to Social Security and teachers retirement funds.
The board avoided layoffs or furloughs, although teacher vacancies will be filled by substitutes rather than more-expensive permanent employees. Central administration vacancies generally will be left unfilled.
County schools will turn down thermostats, buy futures contracts to save on fuel oil, reduce the travel budget, schedule buses for longer runs and fewer stops at new subdivisions, eliminate pay for teachers to attend workshops and cut equipment and supplies to make up the deficit.
Reopening negotiations, which can only be done if both the board and teachers union agree, is a sensitive issue, said Board Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig.
"We've never done this before, and I think that's what we're struggling with, how to do it tactfully, gently, sensitively, non-confrontationally," she said.
Board Vice ChairmanDana F. Hanna suggested one reason the union might agree to renegotiate: public image.
A request for a 16 percent salary increase for teachers in the 1992-1993 budget will not sit well with the public, Delegate Martin G. Madden, R-13B, warned during the meeting with boardmembers.
Superintendent Michael E. Hickey replied that he is legally obligated to budget for raises covered in the teacher contract. He did not indicate how much the 16 percent increase would amount to in dollars, but the 8 percent teachers did not receive this year wouldhave cost the school system $8.4 million.
Madden also criticized teachers for refusing to volunteer for after-school activities to protest not receiving a raise this year. "I think the most counterproductive thing now is that work-to-rule thing," he said.
State Sen. Thomas M. Yeager, D-13, said the public perceives school officials as riding around in cars with local government tags, talking on car phones. He also asked whether the board had eliminated out-of-state travelfrom the current budget.
Out-of-state travel is not a separate account in the school budget. Board members cut $15,000, leaving the travel account with $141,550 to cover in-state and out-of-state travel,mileage reimbursement for teachers who teach at different schools, teachers who must travel for specialized training and reimbursement for parents who transport special education students.
Madden angeredboard member Susan J. Cook by asking her not to touch bus transportation for parochial schools in last week's round of budget cuts. "He told me that if we're considering making additional cuts, perhaps his voting in Annapolis might change," Cook reported.
Although the board made no further cuts in bus service to parochial schools, Cook andHanna said they resented the idea of budgetary "sacred cows." The board cut the service to $166,980 this year, about $100,000 less than the 1990-1991 allocation, as part of a January round of reductions in its budget request.
Madden said parents from St. Louis School met with him in September to air their grievances after learning in August that the school board's financial cupboard was bare. He said parents complained of bus stops at a tavern and liquor store and that busesare so crowded some students must stand.
He said he had supportedthe school system in the General Assembly and, "My cow had already been gored. I was saying, 'Don't kill it.' "