Carroll County teachers and other school employees will be mailing in ballots over the next month -- making the tough choice between a salary freeze and deep cuts to classroom programs.
The executive committees of all five school employee unions accepted new contract terms Friday, giving back a 3 percent raise and all increments they negotiated in a two-year contract last year.
Leaders say they are resigned to the need for the wage concessions. They expect the pact to be ratified but also predict a significant number of "no" votes by teachers and other employees.
"Is it going to be tough? Yes," said Sharon Fisher, president of the Carroll Association of School Employees, which represents instructional assistants, secretaries and nurses.
"But [CASE members] said they want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem," she said. "They want each child to get those programs."
She said she believes that the school board's concession to pay 100 percent of health insurance premiums will help sell the modified pact to members.
Even in years when a contract comes with a raise, the 1,500 teachers never vote 100 percent to ratify, union leaders say.
However, they believe the endorsement from the executive committees will help.
In exchange for the wage freeze, the 2,400 Carroll school employees would have lower insurance premium and co-payment costs and would be allowed to carry over one personal day into next school year.
All five employee unions had agreed in February to reopen the contract, after a series of public hearings in which hundreds of residents turned out to protest threatened budget cuts to programs such as elementary instrumental music and gifted education.
"We live here, we work here, we want to try to solve the problem," said Harold Fox, a staff member for the Maryland State Teachers Association who negotiated for the teachers.
At the hearings, residents rarely complained that teachers were overpaid, although many said they thought a salary freeze was not unreasonable.
They were harsher in recommending cuts in administrative salaries, however.
Those criticisms hurt, said W. David Humbert, president of the Association of Public School Administrators and supervisors of Carroll County.
He said the group was disappointed in the resulting agreement.
His co-workers "consistently put forth significant energy and extra time above and beyond the call of duty every working day, as well as many times on weekends," he said.
"I have often wished that critics of the school system employees could follow them for a week and get a perspective of what they do," he said in a prepared statement Friday.
"I think after that week their attitude would change from criticism to respect."
The agreement would save the school system about $4 million that would have been spent on the raises, but increased insurance coverage would cost the schools another $1 million.
On a teacher salary of $40,000, the 3 percent raise would have amounted to $1,200 a year.
Employees who would have qualified for a step or longevity increase would not get those either if the new contract is ratified.
They will get 100 percent coverage of their insurance premiums. Under the original agreement, employees would have paid 5 percent of the premium for an individual -- a total of $260 for the year -- and 10 percent for a family plan -- a total of $700 for the year.
Under the renegotiated terms, employees would save that money and also save money by smaller co-payments resulting from the new insurance plan that begins Jan. 1.
The plan will require them to choose a primary-care physician who would be responsible for approving any visits to specialists.
Fox said 90 percent of employees already are seeing doctors who are in this plan.
Pub Date: 5/12/96