Old Principals' Contract Haunts Start Of New Talks

February 23, 2005|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

With only a few weeks to go before county principals begin formal negotiations for salary increases and a new contract, school officials and administrators are still grappling with unfinished business from last year.

The 250 members of the Association of Educational Leaders, the union representing county principals, want to make sure the pay differential between them and those they supervise is fair.

The seemingly never-ending issue appeared close to resolution after both sides signed the multiyear contract in October 1989. On the heels of a work-to-rule job action that cut back seriously on extracurricular activities outside school hours, principals and the Board of Education agreed on a two-year pact calling for salary increases of 5 percent and 7 percent.

That contract expires in July.

This time, the two sides are far apart on how to interpret a consultant's report on the pay differential problem. As part of the current contract, each side split the $10,000 cost of a report from the Washington-based Hay Consultant Group. The report was completed in July.

The consultant noted a smaller difference in pay between principals and teachers in Anne Arundel compared with some of the surrounding counties.

Montgomery County showed the greatest differential.

The report recommended establishing a set differential between teacher and principal salaries.

"The holdup is that they (board negotiators) think the differential should be open to negotiation every year, which is promising nothing," AEL Executive Director Richard Kovelant said. "If you pay money to an outside consultant, you ought to listen -- or why are we spending public money?"

Kovelant said erosion in the pay scale began in 1988, when teachers received a cumulative 27 percent increase in three years while, during the same period, principals received a 5 percent increase.

"The problem with the board's offer for a year-by-year negotiation to address the differential is that it could go from zero to whatever. It doesn't solve the problem. The public should be made aware of another broken promise. It will soon be time to negotiate a new contract, and how can we do that if we can't finish this?"

But part of the reason for the slow progress in talks may lie in the fact that neither side can fully agree on how the report should be interpreted.

"The report said if AEL and the board wished to maintain a differential, that scholarship incentives and changes to the pay structure would not guarantee a continuation of a salary where the supervisor was being paid more than the people they supervise," said William Scott, the school board's chief negotiator. "The report's conclusion shows that they, too, had difficulty with the issue. They did not find our salary structure markedly different from school systems in surrounding areas."

AEL and board negotiators met in September, last month and a week ago but failed to move any closer to an agreement. Negotiations for a new contract are scheduled to begin next month or in early January.

Scott said negotiations on this year's contracts can overlap with questions left unresolved by last year's agreement. Scott and his negotiating team have their hands full; four contracts expire in the spring: those for teachers, secretaries, custodians and principals.

"Preferably, we would want to complete last year's discussions before entering new discussions," Scott said. "There are a number of issues in the next series of negotiations that have no relationship to salary. I think we can certainly enter negotiations on those issues while attempting to resolve the current set of discussions."

While the consultant's recommendation is non-binding, AEL members said they were hoping the matter could have been resolved based on findings in the report. And the union says it is not willing to leave the differential issue open to annual negotiations.

"If you don't like what the report came up with, come up with another solution," Kovelant said. "I'm not locked into that formula, but saying you will negotiate every year is like saying you are promising to promise."

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