Owens opposes raises for teachers

Executive's reaction surprises union officials, schools superintendent

Anne Arundel

October 31, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens says she opposes the school board's proposal to give teachers a 1 percent pay raise beginning in January - a concession it made after Owens refused to fund cost-of-living increases for most county employees.

The county executive's feelings, expressed in a letter sent Tuesday to school officials, came as a surprise to Superintendent Eric J. Smith and teachers union officials, who said they believed Owens supported the proposal.

"The letter was a shock," Smith said yesterday. "I had had conversations with the county executive prior to this action and thought there was clear understanding of what we were doing and why."

In the letter, Owens wrote that it was "not fiscally wise" for the school board to give the $2 million in raises using school funds left over at the end of the fiscal year that ended in June.

She said the raises would increase the school system's overall budget and create a long-term strain on the county's finances. It also might cause other county employees to ask for raises, Owens wrote.

Teachers union president Sheila Finlayson said she, too, had believed Owens supported the partial reinstatement of teacher raises.

"I'm very disappointed that she would change her mind after saying it was doable," Finlayson said.

Owens could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

The county executive's position could be a roadblock between teachers and their raises.

Before the school board can transfer money out of its fund balance - a $6 million pot of money accumulated through spending cuts - Owens or a county council member must introduce legislation to allow it. If the council approves such a transfer, Owens still will have veto power.

The superintendent said the school system worked hard to save money and should be permitted to restore some of the raises teachers had been expecting under their contracts, which are subject to county funding.

"Once money was known to be available, we had an obligation to honor as much of that as we possibly could," Smith said.

Sun staff writer Ryan Davis contributed to this article.

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