Teachers Threatening To File Suit

Board Rejects Contract Foes Called'unaffordable'

February 16, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

The county Board of Education faces teachers' ire and a threatened lawsuit for refusing Monday to approve a negotiated one-year contract that would have given many teachers total wage increases of 10 percent.

The board rejected the contract, 4-2, with opponents calling it"unaffordable."

Specifically, the contract called for a 3 percent across-the-board raise for all teachers and two step raises on the pay scale for about 1,000 teachers who qualified.

The contract's rejection has teachers feeling dejected and upset, said Christine Haggett, president ofthe Harford County Education Association, which represents about 1,500 of the county's 2,000 teachers.

"I haven't seen morale this lowsince the strike in '76," said Haggett, referring to that year's county teacher strike.

Kathy Wyatt, a Maryland State Teachers Association employee who represented Harford teachers in negotiations with the board, said, "There's no question we'll file suit; it's bad-faith bargaining."

Wyatt said school board member Keith Williams was part of the negotiating team. He and board member Violet Merryman were the only two who voted in favor of the contract.

"The board's representatives signed off on the agreement. As far as we're concerned, wehave a contract," Wyatt said. "I don't understand this about-face. In the past, they have fought just as hard for full funding of the budget. We didn't get the 8 percent raises we negotiated for this year, but they fought for it to begin with."

Board member Ronald Eaton disagreed, saying it was up to the board to present a responsible budget.

"I can't speak for the others, but as far as I'm concerned, they have to go back to the table and discuss other alternatives," he said. "The ones presented were not what the board had in mind.

"We told them to look at about a 9 percent increase over last year's budget, to cover increases in the consumer price index and the costs associated with the growth of the student population," Eaton said. "The package as presented is too high. It's unaffordable."

A 9 percent increase would raise the board's operating budget by about $12 millionto about $149.1 million.

Board members, who say they want to go back to the bargaining table, have called a special public meeting at 5 p.m. tomorrow at Southampton Middle School to talk about the issue and their budget for the next fiscal year.

The board still has twoother school employee contracts to approve. Those contracts have notbeen presented to the board.

The current agreement with teachers,a three-year contract, expires June 30, 1992.

But Wyatt said the Harford County Education Association won't bargain again.

"We'll be there, though, in full force Monday to make vocal our displeasure,"said Wyatt. The union also put an ad in the Harford County Sun urging parents of Harford students to call school board members in protestthis week.

Bill Rufenacht, director of finance for the Board of Education, said each step increase on the pay scale is worth about a 3.5 percent pay raise.

"So a teacher in the middle of the scale, who would get two step increases, would get a total 10 percent raise" under the rejected contract, said Rufenacht.

He said about half of the county's 2,000 teachers would be entitled to the step increases.

The average salary for a Harford teacher is $32,000, he said. A 10percent increase in wages would bring that salary to about $35,200.

To give all eligible teachers a single step increase on the pay scale would cost the Board of Education about $930,000, Rufenacht said.

"To give a 1 percent improvement to all salary schedules would cost $989,000," said Rufenacht.

That means a 3 percent across-the-board raise would cost about $2.9 million.

Albert Seymour, a board spokesman, said the board is also concerned about proposed legislationin Annapolis that would penalize school boards for giving raises during the state fiscal crisis.

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