Brighter Day for County Teachers ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

September 30, 1993

At last, some good news from the school beat: Anne Arundel teachers not only have accepted a new contract, but are so happy with it that they are willing to drop a lawsuit against the county seeking reimbursement for four furlough days in 1992. The contract calls for a 2 percent raise on Jan. 1, 1994 and a 4 percent increase on July 1, 1994 -- reasonable improvements considering that teachers haven't received a raise since July 1990.

Everyone knows how dicey the county's financial situation has been since then. The recession, coupled with massive cuts in state aid to counties, demanded radical changes in the way local governments do business and made cost-of-living increases for county employees unwise, if not impossible. During hearings on the current budget last May, county workers did not accept that finances were still shaky enough to justify denying them again. Yet the county was right to be cautious, given the precarious economic recovery and a new voter-approved tax cap.

Even as that budget was being approved, however, it was clear that salary austerity had been pushed as far as it could. Teachers, who enjoyed three straight years of hefty 9 percent raises before the recession hit, have been in a better position than many private sector employees. Still, asking them and other county workers to forgo a modest increase for a fourth straight year would border on the unreasonable -- barring some unforseen drop in county revenues.

County Executive Robert R. Neall and the County Council, who are not bound to fund the contract, have an added incentive to honor it: the teachers union's agreement to drop its lawsuit seeking money lost during the 1992 furlough. The county can do without the expense of fighting this legal battle -- and some county officials suspect the union would have a good chance of winning.

Teachers have not had much to smile about these past few months between contract disputes, bad publicity spawned by the Ronald W. Price sex scandal and bad blood left from disagreements with the board during the recent budget session.

They are smiling over this contract, though. That makes it a settlement that bodes well, not just for them, but for the school system that depends on their efforts.

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