Harford County's public school system announced Monday that it has reached a tentative contract agreement with its largest union representing teachers, who are to get raises funded by school budget cuts that will eliminate 72 positions.
The agreement covers the school year that ends this week and next school year and will provide teachers, guidance counselors and other members in the bargaining unit a 1 percent cost of living raise next school year, plus a step increment raise for those who are eligible and a longevity increment for others.
In addition, members of four other school system employee unions, representing in excess of 2,000 employees, will receive similar pay increases, the school system said.
The agreement was announced by the school system shortly before 3 p.m. Monday, just a few hours before teachers were set to attend the Harford County Board of Education's business meeting in Bel Air, where final action was expected to be taken on the 2012-13 school system budget.
"The Board of Education of Harford County and the Harford County Education Association (HCEA), which represents approximately 3,200 Harford County Public Schools employees, including teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, media specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech and hearing clinicians, have reached a tentative agreement for the FY12 (2011-12) and FY13 (2012-13) school years," a news release from the school system read.
"A tentative agreement for FY13 was signed by representatives of the school system and HCEA. The one-year tentative contract between the two organizations encompasses the 2012-13 school year, which will begin July 1, 2012, and end June 30, 2013," the release continued.
The details of the agreement, including the 1 percent cost of living raise for all employees and the step increment and longevity increment for those eligible, was being "shared" with members of the school board and with members of the union, according to the school system. Both the board and the union must approve the final terms.
Advocacy lauded by union head
In a press release sent Monday afternoon, HCEA President Randy Cerveny wrote: "Make no mistake: this agreement came about because of the involvement and advocacy of the teachers of Harford County. They refused to remain silent in the face of threats to the quality of education for Harford County students and stood up for their right to be compensated as professionals."
Cerveny said he expected the school board to adopt a budget during Monday's scheduled meeting that includes the negotiated increases.
"HCEA members will vote on ratification of the tentative agreement in their schools on Tuesday and Wednesday," the teachers release stated.
The school system's press release said HCEA also tentatively agreed to a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, that resolves the outstanding 2011-12 collective bargaining issues. The MOU provides for a bonus day for the 2011-12 school year, therefore, the last day for teachers will be Wednesday, June 13, not Thursday, as had originally been stipulated by the school system.
For the past two weeks, teachers have been picketing almost daily outside selected schools to express their displeasure over having to work on June 14 and over the lack of resolution of their contracts. No Harford school employees have received raises since the 2009-10 school year, and the superintendent had proposed a 2 percent reduction in 2010-11 that was avoided only after county officials approved additional funding for the school budget.
County executive responds
In a statement issued shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, Harford County Executive David Craig applauded the settlement, but added words of caution.
"The proposed 1 percent pay raise, plus step and longevity pay will cost the Board of Education approximately $10 million," Craig said. "Although our teachers undoubtedly deserve a fair pay raise, this proposal also comes with a cost — the loss of both administrative and teaching positions."
Craig, who has been the focus of some of the teachers' criticism, made it clear that he had no involvement in the negotiating process, one over which he noted he has no legal authority.
He noted that the raise for school employees is solely funded by the board's fiscal year 2013 budget and "no additional funding was needed from the taxpayers of Harford County to support this negotiated pay raise for teachers and staff."
"I felt confident throughout this budget process that the Board of Education would find the money within their allotted budget to provide for this pay raise for eligible teachers and staff," he continued, also pointing out that as county executive, he has "consistently funded the Board of Education at unprecedented levels above the [state required] maintenance of effort."
The county executive said he hopes the board and HCEA "can move forward in a collaborative manner and put this issue behind them for the betterment of the education of our children and grandchildren."