BY MARISSA GALLO and ALLAN VOUGHT, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
4:38 PM EDT, June 26, 2012
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.
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 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.
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.
Final budget adjustments approved by the school board on June 11 will result in the loss of 66 classroom positions and seven central office positions.
According to figures Kranefeld released late Tuesday afternoon, 34 of the job cuts are at the secondary level, 28 at the elementary level and four are in special education. "All 73 position reductions were accomplished through attrition," she said.
Based on the planned position cuts, the school system will have approximately 5,360 full-time equivalent positions next year, down from 5,448 in the current budget and 124 fewer from the all-time high of 5,484 in 2010-11, when the system added a number of temporary positions funded with federal economic recovery funds, most of which were in turn cut in the 2011-12 budget.
The position and spending cuts come at a time when total enrollment continues to shrink. Depending on which school system enrollment report being used - budget data or historical data - the Harford system has lost between 1,300 and 2,000 students since the 2005-06 school year and is projected to lose another 200 to 250 students in 2012-13.
Remainder of 2013 budget approved
Amending the previously approved budget components for fiscal year 2013, the school board Monday also approved a capital budget of $14,911,610, a restricted fund budget of $26,464,158 and food services budget of $15,147,627.
While the capital budget decreased from the original amount of $15,706,131 because of a lack of funding from the state, both the restricted and food services budget increased because of additional projected grants and a negotiated wage package for food service employees.
The adjustments in the capital budget, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Jim Jewell said, is because "the state didn't give us all the money we requested for Red Pump [Elementary]."
The only item in the school system's capital budget funded locally is $400,000 for relocatable classrooms, or portables as they are often called. Last week, five portables were demolished at Prospect Mill Elementary School.
Portable classroom questions
Board member James Thornton asked Jewell if the classrooms that will be disposed of using the $400,000 were no longer in use or if they were being removed for another reason.
After redistricting, explained Superintendent of Operations Cornell Brown, the county had many relocatable classrooms that were no longer "being used to house students."
The school system, he continued, is evaluating the classrooms' current use to know exactly which ones can be removed — a matter to be approved by the board later — and which will stay "to address any program" or resource use.
Brown said the funds involved are for the potential removal of the portables and restoration of the ground where they had been.
Board vice president Rick Grambo asked how the school system plans to dispose of the classrooms.
It depends on the type of relocatable classroom, Brown said. Some will be completely removed intact from school grounds and some can be demolished and disposed of on site.
"Why can't we leave them there?" Grambo asked.
Brown explained that most portables are being used, either for storage or as resource areas during the school day.
The school system will complete an evaluation to see which classrooms aren't being used at all and then possibly recommend that those classrooms be taken off the school's site.
Where savings may come into play, Brown continued, is when the portables are removed completely, because all of them, regardless if they're being used, consume power.