Teacher Pay Called Temporary Fix

Baltimore Co. Union Wants Long-term Accord So Experienced Instructors Will Stay

April 16, 2009|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@gmail.com

Baltimore County teachers may see the pay raises they have sought for more than a year if the County Council approves the 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase in County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s budget proposal.

But a more permanent solution still is needed to get teachers to remain in the county, the union president said yesterday.

"We still want to look at ways to retain our veteran teachers, and that's going to have to come in talks with the school system and the county executive about a long-term plan to get our salaries to a comparable level as other jurisdictions," said Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "We have to look at a long-range plan to do that."

Although more instructors are likely to stay put during the economic downturn, she said, that's just a temporary fix.

The salary increase, which would go into effect in January, represents a milestone of sorts in a controversy that began when Smith's budget for this fiscal year did not provide pay raises for county employees. At that time, county and school officials said budget constraints prevented them from giving more than step increases. The teachers union responded with a work-to-rule job action and protest.

"We're obviously happy to see salary increases included in this budget," Bost said, though "it was a little disappointing to know they won't be in until January."

While the teachers union appreciates getting something this year, particularly in tough economic times, it stands by the actions it took over the past year and its concerns about retaining teachers, Bost said.

Smith's $2.5 billion proposal, which allots a total of about $1.31 billion to the Board of Education, also includes a 2.38 percent increase for principals and assistant principals, as well as a 2 percent raise for all other school employees, county officials said.

The school board originally approved a $1.32 billion proposed operating budget in February. That plan called for nearly $23.5 million for employee pay raises and $11.6 million for step increases.

"There was significant support for each of the superintendent's priorities," county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

School officials are working to compare Smith's proposal with their request, but "the differences are almost irrelevant, given the fact that no one else is in the situation that we're in. We're still on the positive side," Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said.

School and county officials have collaborated throughout the process, he said.

"He has delivered," Hairston said of Smith. "It's a very good budget. It's a phenomenal budget when you look at it in the larger scheme of things nationally."

The spending plan also calls for funding 46 new teaching positions - 42.1 for "regular county schools" and 3.9 for the public charter school, Imagine Discovery - and a principal and secretary at the new Towson elementary that is to open in August 2010, according to county officials.

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