Secretaries, assistants rally at school board meeting

Union rejects proposal for a 1 percent raise

Anne Arundel

November 20, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Undeterred by rain, two dozen secretaries and teaching assistants rallied outside Anne Arundel County school board headquarters last night to demand a better work contract.

The union representing 1,500 such employees has rejected a proposed 1 percent raise, calling it insufficient because of the low wages its members earn. The proposal would mean an average increase of $250 a year for a secretary and $190 for a teaching assistant, union officials said.

"They expect a lot out of a person who makes a little money," said Cindy Galla, a Deale Elementary teaching assistant who stood under a large umbrella. Yesterday, coincidentally, had been declared Education Support Professionals Day by the school board.

A teaching assistant's starting salary is $14,700 a year, and a secretary's is $20,500.

School employees were outraged last spring when the county eliminated their scheduled 3 percent cost-of-living raises to balance its budget. The board's offer to partially restore the raises using a school system surplus has been accepted by two other unions representing teachers and blue-collar school workers.

A few teachers who participated in the rally said they feel secretaries and assistants should get bigger raises because they are even more underpaid than teachers. "We see what they do every day," said Susan Casler, a language arts teacher at Crofton Middle School. "Three percent is a small way to thank them."

Superintendent Eric J. Smith, who briefly left his office to observe the picket line, said he is hoping for a quick resolution. "I wish we could come to closure with this," he said. "One percent is as good as we're going to be able to do."

Joe Sella, a negotiator for the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County, said he has asked the board to consider several non-salary contract improvements. Negotiations resume today.

Yesterday, the board approved its revised contract with the teachers union. But two members said they were concerned that the 1 percent raise may create political or budgetary problems in the future. County Executive Janet S. Owens has said she opposes the raise.

In other business yesterday, the board heard a report about the rise in teacher retirements expected in the next several years, as more baby-boomers complete 30 years of teaching and become eligible for retirement.

"Our hiring needs are great, and we're going to be in very high competition with the rest of the state," said human resources director Lin Blackman before the meeting.

The school system filled 560 vacancies this fall, and officials are expecting 700 vacancies by next year - nearly 14 percent of the teacher workforce.

"The [retirement] trend is going to increase, and we need to prepare for that," said Synthia Shilling, assistant schools superintendent, before the meeting. She said the report was designed to give the board a sense of how competitive Anne Arundel is among school systems. "We're not as competitive as we'd like to be," she said.

In terms of pay, Anne Arundel falls behind most other systems in the Baltimore region. But Anne Arundel's health benefits are equal to or better than nearby systems.

Also, school officials presented a recommendation for which elementary schools should begin offering full-day kindergarten next fall - a requirement for all schools in Maryland by 2007.

Thirteen schools with high percentages of pupils eligible for free or reduced-price meals made the cut, including six Glen Burnie schools and two in Annapolis. Officials said they are giving those schools priority because economically disadvantaged children would benefit most from the extra instruction.

The kindergarten initiative is being implemented in phases because the school system can only afford to add so much classroom space in a given year, officials said. Eleven of the county's 77 elementary schools currently offer full-day kindergarten.

The board also recognized Broadneck, Severna Park and South River high schools as "AP Certified" for offering the most Advanced Placement, boosting enrollments in those classes, and having historically high AP test scores.

The county's nine other high schools are "AP Recognized" for more modest gains.

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