The Baltimore County school board voted last night to reject changing retirement plan services to a single provider, after a protest from hundreds of employees and the district's five labor groups.
The board unanimously opposed the recommended contract with 403(b) plan provider Lincoln Financial Group, which would have moved away from the multiple vendors currently available to employees. Member Valerie A. Roddy recused herself.
"What I think the board would like to see is possible scenarios of multiple vendors, certainly not going beyond the five who have ... answered the requests for proposals," said President JoAnn C. Murphy during the board's meeting last night. The 403(b) plans allow employees to save money for retirement before taxes, according to a consultant's presentation last month on both vendor options. As of Aug. 8, about 5,500 employees participated in the voluntary program, according to the presentation.
Earlier in the evening, about 300 people gathered at the school system headquarters in Towson to protest the board's recent decision to reject a mediation panel's recommendation to give teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living increase, as well as the possible vendor program change.
Most of the protesters, who lined the winding drive to the Charles Street campus, wore black.
"We're mourning the lack of collaborative spirit in Baltimore County," said Cheryl Bost, president of the teachers union, explaining the choice. "We used to be brought to the table ... and more and more, we're left on the [periphery]."
The board voted against the panel's recommendation late last month. Murphy said the "financial climate" factored into members' decision.
Bost has said failing to provide a raise could make the system less competitive and give teachers less incentive to stay in the county. The system loses hundreds of teachers each year, she said last night.
After yesterday's vote, Bost said she was glad the board acknowledged the letters it had received from employees about retirement plan services.
"We're pleased that they listened and at least want to take the time to investigate it further," Bost said.
Lisa Norrington, who chairs the business education department at Patapsco High School, agreed. She said she was upset with the proposal, especially in light of the national economic troubles.
"We made a difference," she said, adding that she hopes the board will choose to keep five vendors for the 403(b) investment plan.