Secretaries union tries for better deal on raise

Members want increase of 3%, instead of 1%, in Jan.

rally set for tonight

November 19, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board is having a tough time selling a 1 percent pay raise to its secretaries and teacher assistants - so tough that the union representing 1,500 of them will rally tonight at board headquarters in Annapolis to demand a better deal.

Teachers accepted the same offer this month. But the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County says its members should receive a 3 percent increase because they have not received raises at the same rate as teachers in recent years.

Both groups negotiated contracts that were to have included 3 percent raises. But the county cut the raises as it struggled to balance its budget for the fiscal year that began in July. Contract negotiations were reopened as a result.

"One percent, to us, is not enough," said union President Bernice Chorba, secretary to the principal of Pershing Hill Elementary School at Fort Meade. "We're having work piled on us no less than the teachers are."

After the union rejected the proposal last month, it gave the board a new set of demands.

"Hopefully, they'll come back with something" the union can accept, Chorba said. Negotiations for the two-year contract, which expires next year, resume tomorrow.

Chorba said the union members are being asked to do more because of the school system's academic initiatives and increased emphasis on data. Secretaries, for example, have the added daily task of entering attendance data for every student into a centralized computer system, she said.

The starting salary for a secretary is about $20,500 a year, and for a teaching assistant, $14,700.

Chorba said teachers, whose salaries start at $33,000, had their pay boosted in recent years by a state initiative that matched local efforts to increase teacher wages.

"We need the teachers, but at the same time, we can't be left behind," Chorba said.

Teachers union officials said their members grudgingly accepted the 1 percent mid-year raise, which will start in January.

"They weren't thrilled about it," said President Sheila Finlayson, noting that only about 15 percent of members voted on the contract changes.

The school board extended the 1 percent offer to restore some of the negotiated pay raises and to improve employee morale. It proposes to pay for those raises - totaling about $2 million - using a budget surplus the school system amassed through spending cuts.

But the proposal is opposed by County Executive Janet S. Owens, who told the school board that it would strain the budget and encourage other employees to ask for raises that the county cannot afford.

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