Carroll school employee unions got the equivalent of a 3 percent raise for the coming school year, in a negotiation process that all sides praised for its collaborative and nonconfrontational methods.
The schools tried this collaborative approach for the first time a year ago, during a reopening of a contract when the employees volunteered to accept a pay freeze to avoid cuts to school programs.
This year's contract makes up in part for that freeze: Employees get the step increases they forfeited a year ago plus cost-of-living increases of 3 percent, except for teachers.
The Carroll County Education Association, the teachers union, elected to take a 2 percent raise across the board, so that it could add a step increase for teachers who reach 27 years in the system.
"It used to cap off at 24 years," said Ralph Blevins, president of the teachers union. "A lot of teachers stay 30 years and like to get one more salary increase before they retire."
The increase also will indirectly boost their retirement payments, which are based on the average of their last three years' salary.
In addition, the contract increases pay for new teachers by $630. New teachers used to get that money if they attended a voluntary six-day program that starts in early August.
But it was not part of the contract, so the schools couldn't advertise the beginning teacher salary to reflect that amount. Also, the teachers weren't considered employees until late August. Now, they will receive health insurance and other benefits beginning Aug. 8, when they show up for orientation.
Stephen Guthrie, personnel specialist, said it was a way to make the system more attractive to new teachers without costing the schools more money than already budgeted, and without taking money away from veteran teacher salaries.
Change for new teachers
The increase means a first-year teacher would get a salary of $26,302, with a small raise in December when the cost-of-living raise kicks in. (Teachers chose to delay their 2 percent raise until December.) That brings Carroll's ranking for beginning salaries from 19th up to 12th of 24 school systems in the state.
The contract for each of the five unions is slightly different, and some delayed a part of their raises until later in the year to cover increases in health insurance premiums. All unions except the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors will get 100 percent of their premiums paid by the school board. The administrators will pay 5 percent of their premiums so that they can get other items in their contract.
"They used an equivalent pool of resources to design a compensation package that met the interests of their particular unit," said William Hyde, assistant superintendent for administration.
Carroll County Schools, the largest employer in the county, used a collaborative approach developed in the 1980s at Harvard University, and described in the book "Getting to Yes."
Instead of two sides drawing up proposals that start with extreme positions and proceed by each side giving up one thing for another, this process starts with a discussion of the common interests of each side.
From the start, the school board laid out the amount of money available for each unit, and the unions and board negotiators discussed how to use that money.
Representatives of all five unions praised the method.
"It was so much easier than in years past," said Jeff Kimble, principal at New Windsor Middle School and spokesman for the administrators union. Instead of a tense atmosphere, it was congenial.
"Bill Rooney, the personnel director, I've known him for 30 years," Kimble said. "I said, 'Bill, when was the last time you laughed at a negotiation session?' He said 'This might be the first time.' "
In the past, the Carroll Association of School Employees, which represents teacher assistants, secretaries and licensed practical nurses, has had strained negotiations, and a few years ago went to arbitration after an impasse with the board.
"This year far surpasses the old way of bargaining," said Sharon Fischer, president of the association and an instructional assistant at William Winchester Elementary School.
"This way, everyone talks," she said. "In the past, we didn't always understand why the board was saying no."
Pub Date: 6/25/97