Arundel: teacher raises vs. reality

March 26, 1993

Forget about planning time and personal leave. The crux of the dispute between Anne Arundel County's 4,000 teachers and the school board is money.

Along with 7,000 other county and school workers, teachers are being denied a cost-of-living adjustment for a third straight year. Many will get merit increases, but, still, the county is asking a lot of its people.

Through furloughs, wage concessions and the sacrifice of COLAs, employees are doing their part to help government muddle through its fiscal crisis. They deserve a raise.

But if there is no money, there can be no raise. We cannot say for sure that the money is not there, but this much is certain: the county's fiscal situation remains very tight.

The property tax cap that voters approved last fall will cost $10 million, and the takeover of $15 million in Social Security payments from the state will more than offset increases in other revenues. The surrounding counties, all struggling with the same problems, also plan to forgo COLAs for their employees this year.

The 3 to 4 percent raise county teachers want would cost $10 million. That sum, teachers eagerly point out, could come from County Executive Robert R. Neall's $10 million rainy day fund. But the school board, which already complied with Mr. Neall's budget constraints, won't ask him to gut the fund.

And he would be a fool to do so, if for no other reason than that it would obligate him to fund raises for all other county and school employees, many of them worse off economically than teachers.

The teachers' union has a tough sales job. The average county teacher now earns $40,000, and before the recession, teachers enjoyed three years of 9 percent raises. Their situation does not evoke the same public sympathy as that of the blue-collar worker making $25,000 or the school secretary making $15,000.

Still, their complaints are justified. County government administration shouldn't consider employee raises as the easy first line item to cut year after year.

If revenues come in higher than expected, all county workers have a right to expect a raise, or a modest bonus.

Alas, economic reality may make their rights irrelevant.

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