By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun
11:28 PM EDT, June 19, 2013
The Anne Arundel County Board of Education approved systemwide pay increases last week as part of a $1 billion operating budget, adding more to the raise package than the County Council had initially supported.
The budget also includes money for the county's first middle school STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — magnet program, while trimming funding to such items as a textbook program and materials.
Earlier this month, the council approved a 2 percent pay increase for school system employees. But the school board boosted that Wednesday to a 3 percent total raise for all employees, adding $5.6 million more than the county allocated.
To pay for most of that increase, the school system trimmed $3 million from its Single Texbook Adoption Program, which officials said began in 2002 to promote equality in school resources and staff training across the county. It also cut $1 million from its instruction materials allocation.
The raises will be implemented across the system's four bargaining units and non-bargaining units. The school system and the teachers union agreed to a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment beginning next month and a full-salary level upgrade (step) for teachers beginning in January.
Teachers' union representatives applauded the agreements.
"The past four years have been detrimental to our employees and their families," said Richard Benfer, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County before the school board vote. "We have seen no steps and only meager increases that should not cover a full year. We must ratify this negotiated agreement to begin the slow process of recovery."
Other negotiated agreements included a 1 percent raise and two step upgrades for those under the principals' and assistant principals' union beginning next month, and a 2 percent raise for custodians and maintenance workers beginning next month and again in January.
The packages were voted upon separately, with board member Amalie Brandenburg casting the lone dissenting vote in each. Brandenburg said she supported giving bargaining units raises but not at the rates the school system negotiated.
"I would like to give pay raises we can afford; these negotiated agreements are fiscally not responsible," Brandenburg said.
After the meeting, she said 82 percent of the system's budget goes to salaries and wages. Of the 18 percent, she said, 12 percent goes toward fixed costs that the school system cannot touch.
"I only have 6 percent in variable costs — 6 percent of the budget I can play with, which [must fund] magnet programs, STEM programs, materials of instruction, textbooks," Brandenburg said.
"We did it this year, but that doesn't get replenished, so I have to cut from those same places next year," she said. "And I still have to come up with $12 million. I don't know how you do it."
Asked about Brandenburg's assessment, school board President Andrew Pruski said, "It might be premature to think ahead.
"I can't speak to next year's contract," he said. "I know we have the money in this year's contract. Every year we look at what we have and what we don't have, and we get back with the [bargaining] units. We balanced the budget. We showed what the adjustments were, and we showed the commitment we have, and as we go forward we can make further adjustments."
Board member Kevin Jackson voted to approve the pay increases but added that "as we begin a new school year, I encourage the superintendent and the executive team to continue to find ways to operate on a budget that is less than what we want."
The school board also approved a $136.8 million capital budget that included funding to enclose open-space classrooms and for kindergarten classroom additions.
School officials also said yesterday that North County High School Assistant Principal Julie Cares has been named the school's new principal. She replaces Bill Heiser, who has been named principal at Catonsville High School in Baltimore County. School officials said 16 schools will have new principals next year.
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