Pay raises for school workers hit a low

Economic slump, lack of grant sap increases

August 09, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A two-year run of raises that started at 5 percent and climbed higher has come to an abrupt end for Baltimore-area public school teachers.

From Anne Arundel County, where teachers recently accepted a 1 percent salary increase, to Carroll County, where three unions are struggling to settle contract disputes with the school board, school workers are feeling the effects of a slumping economy and the absence of a state grant that helped beef up their paychecks in recent years.

"We haven't seen a bad year like this statewide since the early" 1990s, said Thomas Kelleher, a senior staff representative with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents maintenance workers, custodians and bus drivers. "It's really rough."

Kelleher represents employees in five area school districts. In Carroll County, where other unions are at an impasse with school board negotiators, his union managed to extract a 3 percent raise - not massive, but to him a highlight in this contract season.

"It is stellar," Kelleher said of the salary increase that made it through a particularly brutal year of education cuts in Carroll County. "I'm telling you that every person on our [bargaining] team in that room started cheering and clapping."

Schools employees in other area counties have not fared as well.

Anne Arundel County schoolteachers, who received 5 percent raises last year, agreed to increases of 1 percent this year and 3 percent next year. (Negotiators for principals and support staff unions are working out contract agreements with school officials.)

In Harford and Howard counties, teachers enjoyed 6 percent raises in recent years. This year, all public school employees in Harford settled for a 2 percent increase. Howard County school employees agreed to 3 percent raises this year and 4 percent raises next year.

Howard employees could receive 6 percent increases the year after, but the contract agreement, like most school contracts, includes provisions for salaries to be renegotiated.

In Baltimore County, teachers are the only public schools employees getting raises this year, but their 2 percent to 2.5 percent pay increases are the result of salary scale restructuring that has been in the works for four years.

"Obviously, people are somewhat frustrated," said Bob Anzelc, executive director of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "But it's tempered by the reality of opening the newspaper any day you want and figuring out how badly the Dow's going. Countywide, the only people getting raises this year are the teachers and Fire Department personnel, and both are because of multiyear restructuring agreements."

Two other area school systems had more trouble with contract negotiations this year.

In Frederick County, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick declared an impasse in negotiations between school officials and their union. With the help of a professional mediator, the two sides agreed to a 2 percent raise for teachers and administrators.

But the county government's budget allocation for the school system did not cover the 2 percent pay boost, and county officials recommended the school district award 1 percent raises as the county had done for its employees this year.

"The school board wrestled with it and made the decision to implement a 1.5 percent [cost-of-living adjustment] for all school employees," Frederick Superintendent Jack Dale said. "We had to make cuts in other programs to be able to fund that, but it was important to us."

In Carroll County, negotiations between the school board and three of its five unions - including the 1,400-member teachers union - stalled. The board chose to use its limited budget increase from the county to hire new staff, rather than pay for 3 percent raises contained in earlier, tentative agreements. Grasmick declared an impasse in all three cases, and a professional mediator is working with the board's negotiators and the three unions.

Carroll school board members honored their tentative contract agreement with the system's 290 maintenance staff, custodians and bus drivers, who are represented by AFSCME, because the union was the only one to meet the superintendent's contract negotiations deadline in February. The district's fifth union - representing food services workers - was not affected by the board's budget cuts because its funding is not dependent on county allocations.

Contracts in Baltimore City schools were not up for negotiation this year.

The economic slowdown's timing after two years of state-encouraged raises - after school district officials felt they were making progress improving teacher salaries - made this year's diminished raises tougher to swallow, union leaders said.

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