3% cost-of-living increase sought for school workers

Balto. Co. board would put funding in '03-'04 budget

February 22, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Board of Education has asked school officials to include 3 percent raises for all employees in their 2003-2004 budget request.

The board requested the cost-of-living adjustment at a workshop Thursday night and urged school officials to find savings in health care and other expenses to help offset the approximately $16 million cost.

Michael P. Kennedy, a board member, proposed the raise for the school system's 17,000 employees, saying the district needs competitive salaries to recruit and retain top educators.

"It's long overdue," said board member John A. Hayden III. But he added, "I would ask that the superintendent look really hard where you're going to get this money from."

Despite the board's action, prospects for the raise are highly uncertain in the tight financial climate. Counties are facing a possible cut in state aid during the next fiscal year because of a projected state budget deficit of nearly $1.7 billion.

The school board is expected to vote on its total budget request Wednesday . The request will then be sent to the county for approval.

"I don't know what is going to come of it," Rodger Janssen, vice president for leadership at the PTA Council of Baltimore County, said of the proposed raise. But he called it an encouraging "first step. We've got a long way to go."

Shortly after Superintendent Joe A. Hairston proposed an $857 million operating budget last month, parents and union leaders began lobbying for the cost-of-living adjustments, which employees didn't get this year.

The salaries of Baltimore County teachers, principals and other employees have fallen in recent years compared with their counterparts in other Maryland school systems. Now, the salaries rank in the middle of the state.

Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said he was "very much encouraged" by the board's request.

Marcella Kehr, president of the Baltimore County Instructional Assistants and Clerical Employees union, thanked the school board for including all district employees in the proposed raise. She said it would help offset an increase in members' duties.

Paula Simon, president of the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, also praised the board's request, saying it was the only way longtime employees would see their salaries increase.

The superintendent's budget proposal includes $400,000 to begin moving 450 principals, coordinators and other administrators onto a salary scale. But longtime employees complain they won't see much of a gain before they retire.

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