The Fight Over Teachers' Pay HOWARD COUNTY

April 08, 1993

Howard County teachers will undoubtedly vote in favor of a negotiated contract giving them a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise as of July. That vote, however, means little in terms of whether the raise will ever be realized. County officials have begun a propaganda campaign to deny the increase, which would add $3 million to the school system's budget for next year.

At the center of the campaign is an agreement negotiated last June, giving some teachers a 2.5 percent salary increase for longevity. That increase will take effect June 30. With an additional 3 percent increase taking effect July 1, some teachers could receive more than a 5.5 percent increase.

County officials, including County Executive Charles Ecker, are saying that this amounts to two pay increases in the space of one day and is out of sync with what other county employees can expect. Even more damaging, they accuse school officials of deception in trying to keep the 2.5 percent increase quiet while asking for an additional raise for teachers.

So far, there is no real evidence to support this accusation. The 2.5 percent increase was discussed publicly and was widely reported shortly after it was approved.

The increase raised few eyebrows at the time, so county officials may hope the public's long-term memory loss will give credence to their claims against the school system.

That would be unfortunate. Certainly, a case could well be made that a 5.5 percent increase is too high without calling into question school officials' motivations and character.

Of course, school authorities haven't helped themselves in this regard. The Board of Education earlier this year approved a 10 percent salary increase for Superintendent Michael Hickey without much public discussion. That kind of underhanded action certainly invites skepticism; but that was not the case regarding teacher pay raises.

The public should be wary of the war of words between the county administration and the school board. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle, but certainly not at the opposite poles officials are speaking from at the moment. A well informed budget battle is healthy. But casting untrue aspersions on individuals is counterproductive.

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