Raises may be tough sell

Contract would offer teachers more pay, but funding uncertain

March 08, 2006|By ANICA BUTLER | ANICA BUTLER,SUN REPORTER

Though Anne Arundel County school officials and teachers union leaders are pleased with a tentative three-year deal reached last week, funding the contract might be a tough sell to county officials.

The agreement - if approved by teachers and the Board of Education - would give county teachers a 6 percent raise each year of the contract and restructure the teacher salary scale at a cost of about $30 million a year. The starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree would rise from $36,339 to $39,041 a year, according to Oscar Davis, director of employee relations for the school system.

The increase in starting salary could move Anne Arundel County to either fourth or fifth in a ranking of nine surrounding school systems. Currently, the school system ranks eighth, according to a survey conducted by the school system.

"The 6 percent pay raises give us an opportunity to begin to eliminate the salary disparity" between Anne Arundel and surrounding counties, said Sheila Finlayson, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

"We are restructuring our salary scale so that there will be fewer years of wait time [between salary increases], and it will increase the lifelong earning potential for teachers," said Finlayson, who has called the deal "one of the best agreements in the state."

In adopting interim Superintendent Nancy Mann's budget proposal last week, the Board of Education included $30 million to fund the contract provisions.

But that spending proposal is now on the desk of County Executive Janet S. Owens, who could cut the budget before sending her spending proposal to the County Council for approval.

Though she said she hadn't seen the details of the contract, Owens said the bottom line was troubling.

"I think it's going to be a real stretch for the county to do that," she said.

Owens also said that she and the County Council are only able to commit to funding one year at a time.

"I think we need to do the very best we can for our teachers," she said. " ... But I can't make any commitment to a three-year contract."

The Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County has long argued that county teachers are underpaid relative to teachers in surrounding counties.

This year, Finlayson said, school officials seemed to agree as negotiators for both sides were able to craft an agreement in less time than in recent years, and without running into a stalemate.

"Our contract negotiations have been rather contentious in the last few years," Finlayson said. But this year, she said, "I think there was an interest in an agreement, and interest from both sides in a three-year agreement."

Board President Konrad Wayson agreed. "This has been a good negotiation," he said.

Last year, contract talks broke down, and negotiations went far beyond the January deadline before State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick declared an impasse.

Negotiations have reached an impasse at least six times in the past 16 years, including last year, The Sun has reported. Ultimately, a contract with a 4 percent cost-of-living raise was agreed to last year.

"It was really just a joint effort on the part of TAAAC and the board to try to get finished early," said Davis about why the negotiations went more smoothly this year. "We wanted to bring some stability to the process and take a longer-term view."

Highlights of this year's negotiated agreement include: a 1 percent increase in the amount teachers contribute to their health insurance each year of the contract; an increase in the teacher workweek of up to three hours over the course of the agreement; more planning time for teachers; and incentive pay for teachers in shortage areas and those working at challenged schools.

Finlayson said that while the agreement is not perfect, she hopes members of the union would vote to support it.

"Our negotiating team worked very hard to come up with a package to help our membership, and it is a pretty good package," Finlayson said.

After teachers union members ratify the contract, the Board of Education will vote on its approval in open session. Owens will present her budget to the county Council on May 1. If funding for the contract is not included in the county budget, it likely would have to be renegotiated, Davis said, if the board cannot find the money from elsewhere in its budget.

"One of the challenges of the structure we have is that the board can negotiate whatever they feel is correct, but they don't have the fiscal authority," Davis said.

anica.butler@baltsun.com

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