Board seeks ruling on principals' longevity raises

August 28, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel County school board has asked a judge to decide in 10 days whether the board had the right to renegotiate a portion of the principals' contract that guaranteed longevity raises.

"What we are asking the court to do is to interpret the language of the contract and find that the board's interpretation is the correct one," said P. Tyson Bennett, the school board's lawyer.

The Association of Educational Leaders, which represents about principals and administrators, sued the school board Aug. 17 to force payment of the longevity raise. The board's counter suit was filed Friday.

"This is so bizarre it isn't funny," said Richard Kovelant, AEL president. "They asked me to cool it, so I cooled it. They asked me for a sign of cooperation, so I didn't serve them [with papers] about the suit. I took it on faith. I've been trying to show I'm flexible. If I'd wanted to crank this thing to a fevered pitch, I'd have served every board member."

The dispute between the board, AEL and three other employee unions began in June, when the board said its $408 million operating budget didn't include $3.2 million for longevity raises. Those raises are based on length of service.

The unions contended the board could only renegotiate items the County Council didn't fund when it passed the education budget, and they pointed to a letter in which the council told the board to cut $1.7 million from health care and put it toward the longevity raise.

Mr. Bennett said the council's letter telling the board how to spend its money was an election-year ploy.

"The council doesn't have the legal right to tell the board to do that, and the council knows it," he said.

The board never resolved that issue, but on Tuesday it changed its mind and offered three of four unions the raise in exchange for concessions in the health care packages. Teachers, secretaries and maintenance works have agreed to pay a little more in health care premiums in exchange for the longevity raises, union leaders said.

Michael A. Pace, the school board president, said no offer would be made to AEL because of the lawsuit.

"They chose the forum," he said.

Legally, the council cannot tell the board how to spend money in a broadly defined budget category, said Greg Nourse, a county budget and management analyst. For example, the council told the board not to make several new hires and instead spend that money plus health care money on longevity raises, which the council does not have the authority to do.

Mr. Nourse said, however, that if the board chooses to spend the money another way, it will have to "deal with the new council and new administration on that issue. Regardless of how it goes, it will come up at some point."

In the meantime, Parent-Teacher Association officials have been fretting over what will happen when school starts if the the principals initiate a job action.

Rita Lowman, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAS, said some principals have already been saying there will be no "back to school" nights for parents and teachers to get acquainted. At least three administrators are needed to chaperon any evening activity.

"The PTA leaders can understand why the principals and teachers are doing what they're doing," Mrs. Lowman said. "They were promised a raise, and the board tried to back out on it."

The problem, Mrs. Lowman said, is that "we're caught in the middle, and then the children are going to be caught in the middle.

Mrs. Lowman said, "We're hoping things can be settled. The next people in line to be hurt are the kids."

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