Carroll County teachers vote to give up pay raises to save classroom programs Action diverts $3 million into areas facing cutbacks

June 11, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Carroll County teachers have voted to give up a 3 percent raise they negotiated as part of a two-year contract a year ago, diverting $3 million back to classroom programs that were in danger of being cut.

In exchange for the wage freeze, they will be among the 2,400 Carroll school employees gaining lower health insurance premiums and co-payment costs, and will be allowed to carry over one personal day into next school year.

Leaders from all five school employee unions agreed to the wage freeze last month, and members had ratified them by yesterday, said William Hyde, assistant superintendent of schools.

Among the 1,300 teachers who turned in ballots, 72 percent voted to accept the contract.

"Most years it's a little higher than this, although this is higher than I expected," Ralph Blevins, president of the Carroll County Education Association, which represents teachers, said of the vote. "It wasn't the best contract. It was the best we could do."

Hundreds of parents packed school budget hearings in January and February to protest threatened budget cuts for programs such as elementary instrumental music and gifted education.

Superintendent Brian Lockard had said that one alternative to the cuts would be to reopen the employee contracts, if all sides were willing. All five employee unions agreed in February and spent two months in negotiations.

Union officials said they were resigned to the wage freeze as the only way the school system could avoid deep cuts in classroom programs.

"I think it's a major effort on the part of [employees] to help solve the county's financial dilemma and keep dollars as close to children as possible," Hyde said. "It's really a very noble move on their part, I believe."

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 $1 million more in a $140 million 1997 operating budget.

For a teacher salary of $40,000, the 3 percent raise would have amounted to $1,200 a year. Employees who would have qualified for step or longevity increases will forgo those increases.

Employees will get 100 percent coverage of their insurance premiums. Under the original agreement, they would have paid 5 percent of the premium for an individual and 10 percent for a family plan.

Under the renegotiated terms, employees also would save through smaller co-payments resulting from the new insurance plan that begins Jan. 1.

As school budgets are squeezed throughout the state, teachers have been accepting small raises or wage freezes, sometimes in return for noncash benefits. In Howard County, for example, some teachers will get small pay increases, but all teachers will be relieved of lunch and recess supervision duties.

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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