Though school officials approved 3 percent raises and two step raises for teachers and other school employees for the current school year, county government officials rejected extra funding sought to fund the package. That left the school system and its unions to renegotiate the current year's contract and while other unions did, the teachers took their dispute to a special state labor relations board created by the legislature to specifically resolve contract disputes between teachers and local school systems.
The labor board has since ruled Harford school officials had acted in bad faith, but county officials made it clear to school officials that they believed the state board has no power to order the county to fund an agreement that would compel them to also raises taxes. As a result, the dispute over the 2011-12 contract appeared to have come to an impasse prior to Monday's settlement announcement.
As for the deal made to fund the 1 percent-plus raises for 2012-13, school officials acknowledged the county executive and county council cut most of the system's requested budgetary increases this year; however, the school system will fund the deal anyway, the press release said.
"Despite the lack of funding for a wage increase from [county] fiscal authorities, the board agreed to fund the increases through significant reductions in staffing and other programmatic areas throughout the budget to include professional development, overtime, meetings and conferences and equipment," the release states.
When the county council enacted the 2012-13 budget on May 29, several council members warned teachers that if the school system were to fund raises from its final budgetary allotment from the county, some teaching positions were likely to be cut.
"The Board is pleased to provide our employees with an increase in salary as they are the heart of this organization and so deserving," School Board President Leonard D. Wheeler said in the release. "Working with a budget shortfall this year, it was imperative that we carefully analyzed the budget to make strategic and thoughtful reductions in order to provide a salary increase for our employees. However, with approximately 85 percent of our budget dedicated to people, it is impossible to make cuts without realizing an impact on the classroom."
As a result of the FY13 board agreement, members of the four other bargaining units: Harford County Educational Services Council; the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County; the Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical and Supervisory Professionals; and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will also receive the step increase, 1 percent COLA and longevity increment for eligible employees, the school system said.
Negotiations were not enough to stop teachers from picketing outside of the A. A. Roberty building before and during Monday night's Board of Education meeting.
About 50 to 60 teachers with signs stood outside with more in the lobby because the board room was filled to capacity. A sign outside the doors alerted visitors that only 175 people were allowed in the board room at a time.
Teachers wore red stickers that read "Save our schools" and talked among each other as some watched the meeting from monitors.
Harford Technical High School para-educator Becky Mercer was one school employee to picket outside before the meeting.
"It still wasn't enough," she said regarding that day's negotiations. "We still turned out."
Mercer commented that as a para-educator, which she has been for three years, she still doesn't earn a salary comparable to a teacher's.
As many teachers as the room allowed filed in after the recognitions portion of the meeting, with 10 or 15 standing in the back once the seats were filled again.
Many teachers, as well as Cerveny, spoke during the public comment portion, and all thanked the board for its negotiations with HCEA, and encouraged them to continue their support.
"First, thank you for finally giving your teachers the salary step they deserve this year," Ryan Burbey said. "I know while it isn't what we all wanted, it means a lot and we appreciate your commitment."
Moving forward, Burbey continued, "never again can your employees' wages be used as a budgetary pawn to move around and shuffle about."
The teacher commented that although the negotiated increases are a step in the right direction, Harford school employees are still behind salary-wise.
"We have to work together, we have to rally the community," Burbey said. "The level of funding in Harford County is abysmal."