The negotiated contract for Harford County public school teachers was approved by the board of education Monday after more than a year of negotiations and legal action.

School board members did not comment on the matter, which was part of Monday's board business meeting agenda. No teachers union representatives offered comments, either.

The Harford County Education Association, which represents the county's teachers, and the school system reached a tentative agreement earlier in the month for the school year that just ended and for the next, giving teachers, guidance counselors and others represented by HCEA a 1 percent cost of living raise, plus a step increment increases or longevity raise for eligible employees.

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The new agreement will be valid until June 30, 2013.

Though the teacher contract settlement covers about 3,200 employees, most of the other 2,250 school system employees are similarly affected.

Teachers with less than 15 years experience will see total raises of about 4 percent, effective July 1, as will many non-teachers.

The details

The total cost of the raises for all 5,300-plus school employees is $10 million, of which approximately $3 million is for the 1 percent cost of living increase, $4.9 million is for the step raises and $1.8 million is for longevity increase, according to figures that were provided to The Aegis by school system Director of Communications Teri Kranefeld.

Kranefeld said the longevity increases will be provided for any employees who are eligible to get them this year, as well as to those who would have been eligible the previous two years but did not receive their raises because they weren't funded.

Kranefeld said that approximately 3,500 employees are eligible for step raises. She did not have a breakdown between teachers and other employees and was still trying to get it from the school personnel office Tuesday afternoon. She said 860 employees are eligible for longevity increases, 516 of them teachers.

According to Kranefeld, a step raise averages 3 percent. There are 15 steps in the teachers' existing contract, that aren't expected to change markedly, except they will reflect the 1 percent cost of living change. The steps reflect an employee's attainment of experience and continuing education up to their first 15 years of service.

Employees who are no longer eligible for step raises because they have maxed out - after 15 years of service - are eligible to receive a $2,000 longevity increase every five years, beginning with their 20th year of service. When those increases are applied, they become part of the employee's base salary until he or she reaches the next five-year service level.

For a teacher making $60,000 a year - those with 13 years or less holding an advanced certificate and those with 14 years or less with a master's degree - the 1 percent pay cost of living increase approved for next year's budget is about equal to the second round of $625 bonus the county was going to pay all government and school employees but then withdrew, using the money instead to meet new teacher pension obligations imposed by the state. The 1 percent increase, however, becomes part of every school employee's base salary on July 1 and in future years. The bonus was only a one-time payment.

Next school year, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and professional certificate but no prior experience will be $41,582 annually.

The consequences

As county officials once again declined to significantly increase the county's share of the school operating budget, the money to fund the raises is coming from a variety of reductions in current school system spending - most of them positions.

After the county executive and county council refused to provide the $23.9 million increase school officials requested in next year's budget, Superintendent Robert Tomback offered a sort of doomsday budget of his own that the school board accepted, one which involved $16 million in adjustments or reductions.

As a result, total operations spending for the next school year – both unrestricted and restricted revenue – has been reduced to $452.3 million, $1.6 million less than the current budget, and 73 existing positions were cut, along with seven of the nine new positions Tomback had earlier requested.

The county's share of the total school operating budget next year will stand at just over 47 percent, with the state providing about 49 percent and the federal government the other 4 percent, according to school system budget figures.