Teacher salaries in for a squeeze Raises falling victim to efforts by counties to cut their spending

A repeat of 1991-1993?

Harford Co. educators are only ones likely to see bigger checks

April 01, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Larry Carson and Suzanne Loudermilk contributed to this article.

Faced with county governments determined to cut spending, school boards across the region are balancing their budgets this spring by squeezing teachers.

In Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, the county executives have made clear that negotiated raises of 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively, will be cut to zero. In Carroll County, teachers already have conceded that they will have to give back all or most of a 3 percent raise negotiated a year ago.

Howard County teachers have agreed to no cost-of-living increase. Union officials fear the county may go further and eliminate already scaled-back step increases -- the raises teachers get when they reach certain experience levels.

Only Harford County teachers seem assured of a raise. In December they negotiated a 3 percent raise; the county executive plans to give them a pay increase, though only 2 percent.

In Baltimore City, teacher contracts aren't negotiated until late spring.

By the time it is all over, teachers in the region may face a repeat of the recession years at the beginning of the decade. Over the course of two school years -- 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 -- Howard County was the only school district in the metropolitan area that gave teachers any kind of pay increase.

"Boards are seeking what they think they need to serve the schools," said Susan R. Buswell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, "and the county governments don't seem able or willing to come up with the money."

For teachers, the wage freeze comes after several years of only small salary increases. Since the wage freezes at the beginning of the decade, most districts have given teachers modest raises -- generally 3 percent or 4 percent -- although some districts were more tightfisted than others. Baltimore County teachers have received a raise only once in the past five years, and Anne Arundel and Harford teachers only twice.

Jean Thomas, president of the Harford County Education Association, said teachers feel the cuts.

"I have lost 10 percent of my purchasing power over the last 10 years," she said, based on a 15.7 percent increase in the cost of living but only two 3 percent raises over that time.

"And that's in a county which has millions of dollars left over at the end of the year," she said.

Harford County has a $19.5 million reserve fund. Ms. Thomas said it would take only $4.8 million to cover a 3 percent teacher raise.

Renegotiating contracts

Maryland law allows school boards to reopen a negotiated agreement if the county doesn't provide the money, and that is what most counties are doing. Howard County's school board negotiated a cost-of-living freeze, but the other boards in the metro area negotiated raises, from as little as 1 percent in Baltimore County to 3 percent in Harford and Carroll counties.

In Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, the county executives simply made it clear that county employees were getting no cost-of-living raise, and therefore neither would teachers.

"We would not be agreeable to a pay raise of that magnitude when we are not proposing a pay raise to our county employees," said Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary when the 2 percent raise for teachers was negotiated.

Public employees -- teachers and others -- are unhappy, but there appears to be little the teachers can do about it. For his part, Mr. Gary has seemed unconcerned about angering the unions.

In Baltimore County, County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III will let teachers have a raise -- if the superintendent can make it fit into his budget without hurting other classroom needs.

"If there's a superintendent I feel I can work with and trust, which I do with Tony Marchione, and he makes his [budget] mark, then I won't mind if he readjusts his salaries, as long as the focus is in the classroom," Mr. Ruppersberger said.

In Carroll County, the process has been friendly but the result the same. No one in Carroll remembers teachers having to give back raises. But this year, budget hearings drew hundreds of parents and students begging administrators not to cut elementary instrumental music or gifted education. At one hearing, a high school jazz band played in the lobby as people arrived.

During the emotion-filled public hearings, more than a few school employees earnestly said they would give up their 3 percent increase if it would save the music or gifted programs.

"I can't say we had any groundswell saying let's give back our raise," said Ralph C. Blevins, president of the Carroll County Education Association. "But there were a number of teachers who were asking to have the programs saved."

Carroll school union leaders got together and came to a consensus that going back to the table was unavoidable, he said.

Layoffs a worry

In Howard County, there is concern about layoffs, said Marius Ambrose, the Maryland State Teachers Association staff member assigned to Howard teachers. Howard teachers agreed to a wage freeze and to cut step increases in half -- and the county may not fund even that, Mr. Ambrose said.

If layoffs happen, he said, "morale is going to be zero, because more and more is being put on the teachers to do. When business wants to move in here, one of the first things [county leaders] sell is the school system."

Mr. Ambrose also points to the county reserve fund, which teachers believe to be excessively large at $21.5 million.

"It's a rainy day fund, but it never will rain in Howard County," he said.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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