Baltimore school police officers overwhelmingly ratified a five-year labor contract Thursday that ties their pay to performance, breaking from a traditional plan with uniform yearly salary increases.

The new contract, approved 122-2, allows officers to potentially top out at $70,000 a year by the time they retire, more than the roughly $62,000 under the old contract. School officers, who earn an average $50,000 a year, also are getting $2,000 to $4,000 bonuses.

"The focus is to have a system that rewards good officers or officers who stand out," said Cpl. Clyde Boatwright, who heads the Fraternal Order of Police lodge representing the 142-member force. "It gives officers an incentive to say, 'If I do an exceptional job, I can be compensated.'"

Pay-for-performance is an idea being tried in several public workforces, including city school teachers and principals, though it is a hotly debated issue. In the realm of law enforcement, some complain it increases the potential for instituting quotas, which are illegal in Maryland.

Gary McLhinney, a labor negotiator with the Baltimore law firm of Schlachman Belsky & Weiner, which represents police officers across the state, negotiated the deal. School police last year broke from the City Union of Baltimore to join the FOP.

The contract giving officers a 4 percent raise is retroactive to July 2010. The new pay-for-performance scale — instead of "step increases," there are now "pathways" — begins July 1, 2013.

McLhinney, a former head of the union representing 3,100 Baltimore police officers, said such a pay scale is better suited for smaller departments than for big-city forces, where officers are typically graded on arrests.

"The way the school police are run, it's about maintaining order and keeping a safe learning environment," McLhinney said. "That's not necessarily done by arresting people."

Boatwright said that "usually, when you call city police, they come to clean up. We want to get to things before they happen. Our primary focus is to be preventative, as opposed to reactionary."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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