The Carroll County school board and unions representing teachers, principals and administrators tentatively agreed yesterday to contracts that would give the employees the equivalent of a 4 percent raise over the next two years.
The deals - which broke impasses between the school board and the employee groups - must be ratified by the 1,400-member teachers union and by the union representing 140 administrators and be signed by the board before the agreements can take effect.
After six months of negotiations and seven hours of working with a mediator, the tentative agreements bring the school system closer to concluding the most contentious bargaining season in years.
The Carroll Association of School Employees - representing 500 secretaries, clerks, nurses and teaching assistants - remains at an impasse with the board. Union representatives will meet with board negotiators and a mediator next week.
The tentative agreements were signed yesterday afternoon after Stephen Guthrie, the school system's assistant superintendent of administration, met with three members of the school board - President Susan W. Krebs, Susan G. Holt and C. Scott Stone - in closed session to share the results of mediation. Board members Thomas G. Hiltz and Gary W. Bauer did not attend the closed briefing at North Carroll High School, where the other board members had attended a luncheon for newly hired teachers.
"Everyone feels very good about having amicably worked out a settlement without having an arbiter mandate or suggest a settlement," Guthrie said. "It's nice to put this to bed and it's nice that we also have a two-year agreement that will give us a couple years of not having to deal with salary or insurance issues."
Cindy Wheeler, president of the Carroll County Education Association, the teachers union, and Hal Fox, who represents the teachers union and CASE, also were at North Carroll High for the teacher orientation. Guthrie met with them immediately after the board's session to go over the proposal. Wheeler signed the tentative agreement on the spot.
"The teachers are taking ... a hit to make sure there's money available for the Board of Education to fund all areas of budget," Fox said.
The sacrifice, Fox explained, is being made by the 500 teachers who are not eligible this year for a "step increase" - the automatic pay boost built into the salary scale as teachers gain more years of experience and additional educational credits. Those teachers will not get a pay raise until February, when their 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment kicks in.
"There's still lot of disappointment out there," Fox said. "But we're glad to try to put a positive note on things. We have a system to run and we're pushing 30,000 students now and teachers don't like this kind of conflict ... We have to do something to avoid these types of impasses in the future."
The agreement calls for base salary scales to be increased by 6 percent over two years. But because the raises take effect in mid-year, employees' pay would reflect a 4 percent raise from February to June 2004. Teachers, administrators, principals and supervisors would receive a 2 percent raise in February, a 2 percent raise in July next year and a 2 percent raise six months later, but their take-home pay would amount to 4 percent more than they earned under the 2000-2001 salary scale.
In addition, the agreement requires the employees to pay more of ballooning health care costs and in the second year of the contract, caps the number of unused sick days for which a retiring employee can be paid. That benefit costs the school system about $1.2 million a year, as employees cash out sick days that are accumulated over decades of employment but paid out at their highest salary.
The tentative agreement would raise the starting salary of Carroll teachers to $32,320 this year and to $33,289 the next year. Teachers at the top of the scale - those with 30 years' experience, a master's degree and 60 additional credits of graduate coursework - would earn $65,527 this year and $67,493 the year after.
Despite the transfer of additional health insurance premium costs to employees, Carroll teachers will continue to pay less each year for medical coverage than their colleagues in other school districts. Teachers paid about $390 last year in health insurance premiums for family coverage compared with $660 in Howard, $680 in Harford, $890 in Baltimore County and $980 in Anne Arundel, according to information compiled by Carroll school officials.
Under the tentative agreement, teachers would continue to pay 5 percent of their annual premiums and would be responsible for paying half of future health insurance cost increases.