School employees miffed by pay recommendations

Most in support roles not in line for raises

March 23, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Some instructional assistants, media specialists and secretaries in the Howard County school district are angry about a study being done by independent consultants that recommends only one group of support employees be considered for a job upgrade and a raise.

Educational support employees include health and science assistants, guidance office secretaries, principals' secretaries, teachers' secretaries, media specialists and instructional assistants.

Of those groups, consultants from Human Resources Systems Group Inc. have recommended that principals' secretaries be upgraded from a Grade 8 to a Grade 10 on the school district's salary scale.

The upgrade would mean a raise of between $1 and $2 an hour, depending on experience.

No other educational support personnel, known as ESP employees, have been recommended for an upgrade.

The consultants declined to com- ment, referring questions to the school district. It was unclear whether other employee groups, such as cafeteria workers or district-level administrators, were recommended for an upgrade or will be when the final report is released in May.

Though the report is preliminary, many of the employees' groups that have not been recommended for upgrades are upset because they don't think the final report will be much different.

"We're not challenging the [principals' secretaries] upgrade," said Cheryl McLeod, a Howard County Education Association director who represents ESP employees. "But no one else is deserving? That doesn't make sense."

The upgrade came from a classification and compensation study the consultant group started last summer, evaluating whether certain positions in the district were in line for an upgrade.

ESP employees asked the district do the study because it was overdue, McLeod said. The last time jobs were evaluated for reclassification was in 1986.

Obsolete job descriptions

School district employees were hoping the study also would update their official job descriptions, which have been stagnant since the 1970s. For example, the list of skills required of a teachers' secretary includes knowledge of a mimeograph machine.

Most ESP employees are required to do considerably more than their written job descriptions detail, said Sharon Jones, a guidance office secretary at Owen Brown Middle School, and it is time they were compensated appropriately, she added.

"And the descriptions leave us wide open to do anything, and we have no recourse," Jones said. "We can't say, `That's not in my job description.' "

"Whatever your supervisor asks you to do," agreed Audrey Winer, a special education instructional assistant at Gorman Crossing Elementary School, "that's what you'll do."

Updated job descriptions might have helped convince consultants that other employees besides principals' secretaries deserve upgrades, Winer said.

One reason: The consultants used a job-factors ranking system to "grade" various district positions. Factors such as job complexity and leadership were high on the consultants' list of importance.

The way the job descriptions are written, Winer said, no instructional assistants would be considered to be in positions of leadership. Maybe not in the 1970s, she said, but that is not true today.

"We are in leadership positions all day long," Winer said. "That's not in our job descriptions from 1978. We're only supposed to be support personnel, but we are teaching classes, just like the teachers."

Many teachers in the county agree with the ESP employees and have contributed to the more than 1,200 appeal letters written to the consultants.

"I was so upset when that recommendation came out," said Elkridge Elementary School second-grade teacher Ann Ridgeway, who wrote an appeal letter. "Because it's not fair at all. They work so hard and they [the consultants] didn't take that into consideration at all."

School District Director of Operations Bob Lazarewicz, who is overseeing the classification and compensation study, said the consultant group is reviewing the appeals and will re-evaluate its original recommendations.

But, Lazarewicz cautioned, the study isn't meant to ensure a raise for all district employees.

"If that were the case, we wouldn't hire a consultant, we'd just give everybody an upgrade," he said.

Salary comparability

Instead, the study is to measure how competitive the school district is when compared with other school districts and businesses that have similar positions, such as secretaries in Howard County government offices.

"In other words, if there's a principal's secretary in [nearby school districts] how do we stack up against them?" Lazarewicz said. "Just because we haven't done [a study] in a long time, doesn't mean that we haven't kept pace economically" in terms of salaries.

"I didn't get recommended for an upgrade either," he added.

Lazarewicz said the complaints might be premature. The consultants' final recommendations aren't set in stone, he said.

"This has to go through a staff review and maybe even a board review," he said.

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