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Three Harford school employee groups OK county executive's $1,250 bonus plan; teachers union still considering it

The Harford County Board of Education and three of five school employee bargaining units reached a memorandum of understanding prior to Monday evening's board meeting on the disbursement of a $1,250 one-time bonus County Executive David Craig proposed earlier this month for every county government and school employee.

The biggest school employee group that covers teachers and guidance counselors has not signed off on the bonus deal; however, the group's leader says they are still considering it.

The one-time distribution of the funds for all county and school employees is dependent on the Harford County Council's approval, which is expected to be forthcoming at the council's Dec. 6 legislative session.

In a news release issued Monday afternoon, the school board said it spoke with the five bargaining units about amending their respective contacts to allow for the distribution of the Craig bonus.

According to the news release, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County and Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical and Supervisor Professionals have joined with the school board and signed the memorandum to accept the funds. The board signed off on the deals without comment during its meeting Monday.

The Harford County Education Services Council chose not to sign at this time, but is willing to sign once funding is approved by the county council, according to the news release, which said HCESC represents "more than 900 instructional support, nurses and clerical professionals."

The Harford County Education Association, representing approximately 3,200 teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, media specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech and hearing clinicians, chose not to respond to the offer of the disbursement, school officials said.

HCEA represents the largest bloc of public employees whose salaries are at least in part funded by Harford County government and the largest bargaining unit affected by the bonus plan.

"We need to actually sit down and discuss the money," HCEA President Randy Cerveny said Tuesday afternoon, adding that until the county council approves the funding, the association has "no means or no right to the money until it actually goes to the school system."

While optimistic and appreciative of the opportunity Craig is providing, Cerveny said the association still realizes there is a possibility the council could reject the bonus funding, especially if it is faced with opposition from citizens over the planned use for the money.

"I appreciate getting input from our members," Cerveny said of the HCEA. "I understand it's the money from the county that came from the citizens, and they [teachers] certainly have a right to this [the money] and the citizenry has a right to have their input on the budgets."

Despite some negative comments he has heard, Cerveny said he is hoping for the best.

"I would just hope that everything works out for all of the teachers, so they also have the opportunity to receive this money, and we're working toward that," he said.

Craig announced the bonus offer late last month, saying he would fund it with part of a $30 million surplus from the 2010-11 county budget. The cost of the bonus is estimated at $7 million to $8 million for more than 6,500 affected local government and school system employees

County government and school employees have not had cost of living or incremental raises since the 2008-09 budget year. In addition, county employees received what amounted to a 2 percent pay cut in 2009-10 through five furlough days imposed by Craig. The furloughs did not affect the 5,000 school system employees.

Last winter, HCEA and the school board reached agreement on a new contract for the 2011-2012 school year that would have provided teachers and other employees covered with 3 percent cost of living increase, plus two years worth of step increment raises to make up for salary freezes in previous years. But in the spring, Craig and the county council declined to make sufficient funds available to fund the raises in the HCEA agreement and similar agreements the school board reached with its other unions.

HCEA has a signed, ratified agreement with the board, according to HCPS communications manager Teri Kranefeld, with fiscal items up for renegotiation as a result of the county's earlier budget actions.

If funding for the bonus is approved by the county council — and the memorandum isn't further amended — full-time school system employees will receive the money in two equal installments — $625 in December 2011 before the Christmas holidays and the same amount again in June 2012, according to the agreement, which can be viewed at http://www.hcps.org.

Part-time employees will get a pro-rated portion of the bonus based on their current status that will also be dispersed in two equal installments in December 2011 and June 2012. Those employees must have an active status at each time the funds are disbursed to be eligible.

"We are grateful to the County Executive for providing funding for a stipend for our employees," Harford Superintendent Robert Tomback said in Monday's news release. "We are hopeful that we will reach an agreement quickly with the remaining two associations in order to allow all employees to receive the first payment before the holidays."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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