Teachers approve pact with 3% pay raise Executive doubts money is available

April 09, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Howard County teachers overwhelmingly approved a new contract with raises Wednesday, but County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he doubts the schools can afford it.

Teachers voted 1,284 to 155 to approve the one-year agreement, which gives them a 3 percent across-the-board raise but no longevity increases. Each teacher will get $777 to $2,400 more, depending on their experience.

"I wish it was more," said Bess Shay, a Harper's Choice Middle School guidance counselor. "I recognize we're in a financial bind right now. I'm just sorry educators are the first to give up our raises" when there are budget problems.

"Money and benefitwise, it was as much as we could expect, in all fairness," said Rick Oursler, a physical education teacher at Hammond Middle School. "Most teachers voted for it because they said, 'I have a raise, and I should be happy about it,' " he said.

The increases will add $3 million to next year's proposed $203 million operating budget.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Ecker said he didn't think there would be enough money to cover the increases.

"I do not think the county will have enough money to provide the funding for that," he said.

Mr. Ecker said he intends to give the Board of Education about $12 million more next year, and "whatever the board wants to do with the amount of money appropriated to them, they can do whatever they want. I can't decide whether to give the raise or not."

James R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, encouraged parents and educators to pressure the county for more education dollars.

Next year's proposed budget is $16 million more than this year's budget. The increase is driven by the $7 million cost of paying Social Security for school employees, previously paid by the state, and the additional cost of teaching 1,500 additional students expected next year. Two new schools -- an elementary and a middle -- are scheduled to open next year.

School board chairman Dana Hanna called the agreement a fair one. "I don't know if it's as much economy-driven as much as it is an acknowledgment it was a fair evaluation of compensation, in light of the economic times and the marketplace," he said.

"The reality is that we'll have to wait to see whether we can, as a county, afford this in light of taxes and other concerns," he said.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey could not be reached for comment.

Although teachers in 1990 had signed a three-year contract promising them a 6 percent cost-of-living and a 2 percent longevity increase in school year 1992, they had to revise that contract to a one-year agreement last May. The renegotiated contract gave longevity increases to eligible teachers and 2.5 percent raises to those at the top of their salary scales, effective June 30.

The June 30 raises will match teachers' experience with their salary for one day. When the new contract takes effect July 1, teachers will fall behind again in step salary increases, said Marius Ambrose, teachers union negotiator.

Mr. Ambrose said the union intends to work with the county next year to restructure the longevity scale to put teachers back on track.

Secretaries, assistants and clerical workers also voted overwhelmingly to accept a new one-year contract. They voted 307 to 29 to accept a 5 percent across-the-board increase.

On Tuesday, the union for maintenance workers, groundskeepers and janitors also ratified a new contract that gives most of them a 3 percent cost-of-living increase, which will take effect Oct. 28. Employees at 15 years and 20 years of employment will also get a 14-cents-an-hour increase, or roughly a $300 a year.

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