Hoping to put public pressure on the school system to raise their salaries, Carroll County teachers staged a rally at Westminster High School last night during a meeting on the school system's budget for the next school year.
Late last night, the board voted unanimously for a 4 percent raise for all school system employees. The raise, along with a school budget that now stands at $185.8 million, must be approved by the county commissioners.
Before the vote, about 60 teachers marched with placards outside the school, then filed inside, where the school board was scheduled to discuss and adopt its operating budget for the year that begins July 1.
Teachers were pressing the board for a 4 percent raise. In Superintendent William H. Hyde's proposed budget -- the blueprint school board members worked from last night -- teachers were to receive a 3 percent salary increase.
Keeping the 3 percent increase would have made Carroll ineligible for extra funds from the state during the next two years. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed -- and the General Assembly is debating -- a program to reward counties that give teachers a 4 percent raise by bumping the raise up to 5 percent.
In pushing the plan, Glendening vowed to help give Maryland teachers a 10 percent raise over a two-year period. Carroll teachers warned last night that refusing the raise would make Carroll unattractive to potential job applicants.
According to the Maryland State Teacher's Association (MSTA), teachers in some neighboring counties -- including Howard, Frederick, Harford and Montgomery -- have received pledges of 4 percent raises from their school boards.
"Morale is way low; we look around and see what other counties are getting, and we're not happy," said John Leister, an Oklahoma Road Middle School teacher with 29 years' experience who organized last night's rally. "A lot of teachers are fed up to the point where they don't want to put in more than 30 years for a system that doesn't appreciate them."
Earlier in the evening, Carroll's board president, C. Scott Stone, called Glendening's plan "irresponsible," adding that the governor should instead be paying for programs that train young teachers and encourage them to work in the state after college. Stone said he would not oppose Carroll's participation, but that he was not going to vote for the 4 percent raise "just because the governor put a proposal on the table."
Stone said the governor gave local jurisdictions no assurance state money would continue to be available after two years. He also said the governor's proposal is political: "It's political payback. He's pandering to the MSTA for their support of him."
Last night, the board was considering Hyde's $184.6 million proposed budget, which includes $2.1 million for 61 new teaching positions, $600,000 for 22 instructional positions in special education, money for staffing and resources at the new Shiloh Middle School -- opening this fall in Hampstead -- and money to reduce class size.
The budget, once adopted by the board, is contingent on money from the county and state. The county commissioners are expected to decide in May how much they will give the school system. Hyde is asking for $3.1 million more than county budget officials have proposed in their blueprints for next year.
It seemed teachers' emotional pleas were enough to sway at least some board members.
Board member Gary W. Bauer said in an interview prior to last night's meeting that chances were slim the school system would get everything it was seeking -- and thus could not increase teacher salaries beyond 3 percent. According to school system figures, increasing teacher salaries by 1 percent for next year would cost about $805,000.
Bauer suggested that the governor, by making his proposal, was meddling in local affairs. "He's forcing [counties] to spend money they may not have," he said.
Board member Susan W. Krebs said she fully supported the increase for next year.
"We need to remain competitive in attracting and retaining teachers," Krebs said. "Teachers are the most important part of our school system."
Krebs said there were other ways to come up with $805,000. She raised the issue when, in a separate matter last night, the board voted, 4-1, to approve a $1.3 million contract with a construction manager for a second high school in Westminster, planned to open in 2002. Krebs, who dissented, said if the school system had put the contract out to bid it might have saved up to $500,000.
"And a half-million dollars is half of what the teachers are here for tonight," she said.
Board member Ann M. Ballard challenged Krebs, saying construction dollars come from a different budget than dollars for salaries.
Cindy Cummings, president of the Carroll County Education Association, the local teacher's union, noted that Carroll's starting salary for new teachers -- $28,410 -- places it 15th out of 24 systems in the state, even though Carroll consistently ranks among the top few in the state in test scores.
"You can see why Carroll County teachers are frustrated," she said. "We're not going to be able to compete for new teachers, and we're not going to be able to keep our veterans." Cummings said she has heard teachers discussing leaving the system if the school board did not respond.
The governor has agreed to help poorer counties pay for their share -- Baltimore City, for example, would receive over $3 million to reach the 4 percent goal, then receive the state funds for the additional 1 percent. Carroll is tentatively set to receive about $150,000 from Glendening to help reach the 4 percent mark.