Characterizing the months-long negotiations as "long and laborious" as well as "collaborative," the Howard County Board of Education and the Howard County Education Association have reached a tentative two-year contract agreement that would increase teacher salaries.
Teachers would receive raises of 3 percent the first year and 3.5 percent the next. Many teachers also would be eligible for step increases - raises based on experience.
School and union officials said yesterday at a news conference at the Board of Education building that salary increases were necessary to keep the state's top-performing school system competitive in the job market.
"We have mutual goals," said Joe Staub, head of the teachers union, which represents 4,100 teachers, guidance counselors and psychologists. "We want to make sure we can attract and retain teachers."
Along those lines, another key aspect of the contract includes providing pay scale credit for second-career teachers, occupational and physical therapists and speech pathologists.
A new teacher who left a private-sector profession would receive one credit for every two years of relevant business experience, up to five years. Therapists and speech pathologists would receive a one-to-one credit for their experience.
The teachers' and support staff's three-year contract expires June 30. The general membership has until April 11 to ratify the tentative agreement.
"I'm optimistic that the members will see that it's a fair contract and support it," Staub said.
The school system also reached similar two-year terms with other unions, including the Howard County Education Association unit for support staff, the Howard County Administrators Association representing principals, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees representing custodial and maintenance personnel.
Top central office administrators, including Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, could receive similar pay raises, although details are being worked out.
The across-the-board pay raise and step increase would add about $19.4 million to next year's operating budget of $512.6 million approved by the school board earlier this month. That represents an 11 percent increase from this year's budget that far exceeds a 7 percent growth limit set by County Executive James N. Robey.
School board members have said they will have to make difficult cuts - estimated between $10 million and $12 million - in the budget, which has been forwarded to Robey. Cousin said it is too early to say which items would be trimmed.
With that in mind, school board members agonized over next year's salary increase on the budget, said Chairman Courtney Watson.
"In the end, we felt it was our No. 1 priority" to keep teachers' salaries competitive, Watson said. "The board understands that they are the reason that we are the top-performing school system."
Staub said the 7 percent limit is an arbitrary figure and that the union would lobby Robey and the County Council to fully fund the school system's budget.
"It's not a trade-off between the contract and the [school system's] programs," Staub said.
In the current contract's first year, teachers and support personnel received step increases. The employees received their step increases as well as a 4 percent pay raise in the second year and a 6 percent raise this year after some uncertainty over available county funding.
The new two-year contract, subject to a vote by the union's members, provides a sense of stability and security for teachers, Watson said.
The tentative agreement also calls for a number of new provisions that would provide more money for teachers and other staff members. For instance, instructional team leaders, coaches and teachers who sponsor student clubs would receive increases in their annual stipends.
School and union officials, however, could not come to an agreement on the issue of teachers' workload and providing more planning time.
The teachers union representatives council was expected to vote last night on the contract agreement, which was unanimously approved by its board of directors Monday.
Terms of tentative contract
First year: a 3 percent pay raise and a step increase for eligible teachers.
Second year: a 3.5 percent pay raise and a step increase for eligible teachers.
A $200 increase in annual stipend for instructional team leaders, bringing the total to $2,200.
A 15 percent increase in annual stipends for coaches and teachers who sponsor school organizations, including the National Honor Society. Coaches now receive up to $4,090 and teacher-sponsors get up to $2,690.
Establishing an 11-month salary scale for guidance counselors and certain teachers who work during some summer months.
Pay scale credit for second-career teachers: One year of credit for every two years of business experience, up to five years. Therapists and speech pathologists get one year of pay scale credit for every year of their experience.
Source: The Howard County school system and teachers union.