Council OKs paying for raises of teachers only

February 18, 2004|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Council voted last night to help school officials pay for some - but not all - employee raises, raising the question of just what message the council was sending.

School Superintendent Eric J. Smith was seeking access to accounts - flush with $5.9 million in savings from last year's school budget - that would enable him to pay for school system-wide raises.

The midyear 1 percent cost-of-living raises have already taken effect, but he was seeking council approval to gain access to the accounts to pay for them.

The council voted to allow Smith use of the money to pay for teacher raises, but it denied him the right to use the money to pay for other employee raises.

The teacher raises will cost about $1.3 million and the other raises about $550,000.

The vote last night - which Council Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks deemed a compromise - won't prevent the raises from continuing, but it will force Smith to find $550,000 in cuts to pay for the other raises. It also left many feeling as if a message had been sent, and some said they didn't like it.

Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, who opposed allowing access only to pay for teacher raises, said the council was shortchanging custodians and secretaries, among others.

"And you don't think you're sending a message?" the Linthicum Democrat asked her colleagues.

After the meeting, the president of the union that represents cafeteria workers, transportation employees and custodians said he was confused.

"I just don't understand the message of supporting the teachers but not the rest of the employees," James Sollers said.

School board President Paul G. Rudolph said the message he received was that it's not important for school officials to save money "because they're not going to able to keep it."

Councilman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican, said the message should be clear: "The council supports the teachers. ... In tight times you have to pick and choose where you get the most bang for your buck."

Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, said that doesn't mean the council isn't supporting other employees, because they will still receive their raises.

The council approved the legislation. But in a separate vote, only Beidle and Odenton Democrat Bill D. Burlison voted against the amendment that restricted the school system's access to the account, limiting it to the amount necessary to pay for teacher raises.

Smith said after the meeting that he will try to keep any cuts as far away as possible from the classroom, but has said that he doesn't have a specific plan.

County Executive Janet S. Owens has already criticized the raises, including the teachers' raises.

Owens has said the cost of the raises will swell from $1.8 million this year to more than $4 million next fiscal year. She has said the decision to award raises was fiscally unwise.

Several council members said last month that they were unaware the raises included Smith - who received a nearly $2,000 a year bump - and his executive staff.

Several school unions had expected to receive 3 percent raises this year, but they were not funded.

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