The Anne Arundel County Board of Education voted Wednesday to fully fund teacher salary step increases in this year's operating budget request — a move that is slated to add $6.2 million to the overall $1.04 billion package interim Superintendent Mamie Perkins recommended in December.
The board voted 8-1 to fund the increases as it adopted the county schools' operating and capital budget proposal. School officials said the step increases — automatic increases given to employees as they move up the pay ladder — are part of funding its agreements with teacher bargaining units. The budget also calls for 2 percent pay raises for employees outside bargaining units and for 73 school-based positions.
Schools Chief Operating Officer Alex Szachnowicz said the current deal between the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County and the school system expires in June 2015, but certain items in the contract can be revised through the remainder of the deal.
The proposed step increase would take effect for teachers July 1.
School officials said that since the budget proposal was announced, testimony at public hearings and budget workshops included concerns over how competitive Anne Arundel teachers' salaries are compared with those of neighboring school districts.
"Other jurisdictions around us have recommended salary adjustments for their teaching staff," Szachnowicz said. "We're already behind surrounding jurisdictions and we're worried that the further we fall behind, the less we will be able to compete with other jurisdictions for teaching talents."
Yet the school board voted to adopt the measure just moments after Szachnowicz told members the district will receive about $600,000 less in state funding than anticipated for its budget. As a result, school officials will likely ask the county for $6.8 million more than originally requested to cover the state's shortfall and the step increase.
"It is an uphill climb, but you have to ask for what you know you need," Perkins said.
Szachnowicz said with the step amendment, the school system's request for compensation for all school system employees is now $24.9 million, up from $18.7 million.
The lone vote against the measure came from board member Amalie Brandenburg.
The board's request now goes to County Executive Laura Neuman, who is expected to present her budget to the county council in May. The county council must adopt its budgets no later than June 15, and then the school board will review the amount allocated and approve a final school system budget by June 30.
Neuman wouldn't say whether her budget plan will accommodate the board's full — and now amended — request, but said, "Our teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world, and we must do everything that we can to support them.
"The increase was made in order to fully cover the terms of the existing agreement with the union, and I think that living up to negotiated agreements is important," she said. "I will certainly consider the board's full request and balance that with many other needs across the county."
School officials said the board's overall request is a 4.2 percent increase over last year's operating budget, contains $5.1 million in program enhancements, and would add 32.4 teaching positions to address continued growing enrollment. Anne Arundel County public schools serves 78,490 students and is projected to surpass the 80,000 mark in the coming years, officials said.
Richard Benfer, president of the teachers union, applauded the school system's move to boost teacher salaries and said he hopes board members have the resolve needed to push it through the next steps.
"I'm happy that they recognize the fact that we need that step to catch up, because we're four and a half years behind [nearly] every other county," Benfer said. "It will go a long way to help keep people, and it's also is a signal to me that the board ... is willing to fight the fight to get it funded — because it's going to be a fight with the county council and county executive."