5:32 PM EST, December 22, 2011
Harford County teachers are confused. They were getting bonuses. Now they're not. They're not totally sure why they didn't get the $625 Harford County Executive David Craig proposed for them, and gave to all Harford County employees except those represented by the Harford County Education Association.
In the end, however, what the teachers are sure of is they would prefer the one-time bonus to the nothing that they're getting.
While few teachers are commenting publicly, many behind the scenes are chastising HCEA President Randy Cerveny for making the bonuses political when they should be seen for what they were intended – a one-time gift.
"Many of us have had enough of the nonsense and just want the bonus that Mr. Craig intended for the teachers," David J. Shriner, whose wife is a Harford County Public Schools teacher, wrote in an email to The Aegis.
Craig, a former teacher and administrator with Harford County Public Schools as well as a long-time HCEA member, proposed giving all county employees a one-time $1,250 bonus, using the surplus from the fiscal year 2010-2011 budget.
It became a political hot potato, though, when the teachers union initially rejected the bonus because union leadership said it would interfere with salary negotiations. The other four unions representing school system employees other than teachers all agreed to a memorandum of understanding accepting the bonuses.
Then it appeared the HCEA reached an agreement with the county as to how the money would be distributed and Cerveny would sign off on the bonuses. But the union backed out – Cerveny later said the HCEA never had any intentions of signing the agreement - and Craig then vetoed the part of the legislation that would have provided funding for the school system's part of the bonuses. Harford County Council President Billy Boniface and Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti concurred with Craig's veto, saying they believed they had been misled by HCEA leadership.
That's the simplified version.
Regardless of the political wrangling, teachers want to see the funding restored so they get their bonuses, which these days are desperately needed.
"It is my hope that a resolution to this situation that is beneficial to the teachers can be achieved…,," Pete Rost, of Bel Air, a six-year teacher in Harford's public school system, wrote in a letter to Craig and Cerveny, a copy of which was provided to The Aegis for publication.
Many teachers wholly disagree with how Cerveny is handling the bonuses.
In a letter to Craig and Cerveny, Rost called it a "sad situation" that given the economy, "one man and his supposed representing body can stand between well deserved, severely needed money and the employees it should go to."
He criticized Cerveny for making the teacher bonuses political when it shouldn't be. By pointing out that Craig is trying to divide employees and circumvent negotiations, Cerveny is himself creating division and has failed to "appropriately recognize the dissension that has been repeatedly expressed to you," Rost said in his letter.
"Party lines have been drawn by an organization that has forgotten its mission to represent the teachers and their interests. Party lines that have no place in this negotiation process or the acceptance or denial of money," Rost wrote.
Rost supports Craig in his efforts to reward teachers for their hard work.
"…I suggest that what you have chosen to do with funding this extra pay is not partisan in the least and that party lines have nothing to do with whether or not we should get this money. We appreciate the attempt that you have made to recognize our hard work and I am sorry that at this point we cannot accept it, as the HCEA apparently has its own agenda and no longer listens to its members and we cannot accept it without their support," he wrote.
Debbie Limpert, a gifted and talented teacher at Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School, is also upset over some of Cerveny's comments, particularly one as to why Craig vetoed the amendment killing the bonuses for HCEA members that Craig "does not want us to negotiate this money because it takes away his power to tell the board of ed how to spend it. He wants total control of the money. He does not want to give you a raise even though the money would be in the budget next year to cover these extra costs."
"I don't really believe that David Craig doesn't want to give us a raise nor do I believe the money is in the budget for this next year. A surplus is a surplus...the bonus should have been graciously accepted and future negotiations should have not been a concern. I fear the HCEA president has set off a powder keg within its membership that will lead to its demise," Limpert said.
While all school system employees would like to have salary increases either by step or a COLA, Limpert said, many are just happy they're employed.
"In this unstable economic climate, I am content having a job that I know will be there tomorrow. However, I would have gladly accepted this bonus. I have never seen this type of bonus offered in my 19 years in the school system, so it was a pleasant surprise when first announced," she said.
Shriner, whose daughter also attends Harford's public schools, wrote to Cerveny: "In a country fallen upon such desperate economic times, it is absolute madness to hold this bonus hostage in order to force the County to negotiate a raise (cost of living or otherwise). Nobody is getting a raise in this economy, Randy. Most folks are just happy to have a job!"
Some Harford County teachers, however, support Cerveny. Cerveny said he has been getting many communiques about the bonuses – some supportive, others vilifying him.
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