Teachers reach tentative agreement

3-year deal would raise employee pay

union must approve

March 24, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

After months of negotiations that nearly came to an impasse, Howard County officials have reached a tentative agreement that would provide pay increases for school employees over the next three years.

The Howard County Education Association (HCEA) and the Board of Education agreed on a tentative contract for teachers and support personnel at the beginning of last week, HCEA President Joe Staub said.

The contracts must be ratified by the HCEA board of directors, the representatives council and the general membership before they become official, he said.

"It's not a freeze," Staub said, putting to rest rumors that the school board was planning to forgo increases altogether this year because of the lean economy. "There will be an increase."

A flier distributed by HCEA to its members this month warned that the board and county teachers might have been headed toward impasse. Staub called rumblings of impasse "rumors," but he did say that "at one point" during the negotiations, "the board's proposal would not have provided increments."

No details about the manner or amount of increases will be released until after April 9, Staub said, when all the involved HCEA parties meet to vote.

For now, however, the contracts would provide at least an incremental step increase or a cost-of-living pay raise for school employees over the next three years, he said.

"Everyone will get an increase next year. What I can't tell you is this means they'll get both, because it doesn't mean that," Staub said. "You could have an increment one year and a cost-of-living next year."

Under the existing salary schedule, a first-year teacher earns $32,913. With an additional year of experience, the district pays $33,160 - without a cost-of-living or merit pay raise.

The past two years, teachers have been awarded 5 percent pay raises in addition to their yearly step increases.

Officials seemed pleased with the tentative three-year agreement.

"This is monumental for us in that we haven't had a three-year contract since the early '90s," said school system spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

"It's in general a good thing," Staub said. "It allows people to plan better when they know what's coming up in terms of salaries."

Last month, the board and Howard County Superintendent John R. O'Rourke had to approve a place-holder operating budget for next fiscal year, waiting for the results of the salary negotiations.

The $389.6 million budget - even without salary increases - is $20 million more than this year's budget.

The tentative agreement does not include pay raises for O'Rourke or his top aides, Caplan said. "That will be determined at a later date," she said.

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