Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose

Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose (Jen Rynda, Baltimore Sun Media Group / September 30, 2012)

The Howard County school system and its teachers' union have reached a tentative agreement for a new contract, avoiding potential arbitration and resolving disputes that lingered throughout the past school year.

The one-year deal announced Friday, which must be ratified by the school board and Howard County Education Association members, calls for a 3 percent raise as well as a half-step increase retroactive to July 1. Step increases are based on length of service.

Another half-step would be given in a lump-sum payment July 1 of next year.

"We were able to give our employees the pay raise that I believe they have earned and that they are entitled to," said Superintendent Renee Foose.

Officials said the resulting average teacher salary in Howard County will be $71,439 after the increases are in place. The average teacher salary was $68,363 before the new pact, officials said.

This past year, Montgomery County had the highest average teacher salary in the state at $74,353, according to the Maryland Department of Education. Calvert County was second at $73,755, with Howard third.

Union president Paul Lemle said under the new deal, Howard employee salaries will see their biggest increase since the recession began, and teachers will receive an extra personal day and additional planning time, while support staff will have designated access to computers during the workday.

The agreement includes stipends for elementary and music school educators for previously uncompensated night concerts and other functions. He said it also allows for a 5 percent increase in stipends for coaches and advisers and makes no changes to health insurance and other benefits.

"Educators wanted us to improve planning time, to improve access to technology, and we worked very hard to make those proposals reality," Lemle said. "The people who make this school system great are ready for work this fall."

The union had initially sought a two-year pact with a 4 percent raise each year, and step increases each year. Foose had said a multiyear deal was impractical, and she and the school board countered with a one-year, 3 percent pay increase and a step increase that would take effect in spring 2015.

Negotiations proved protracted and contentious. Teachers protested at board meetings and conducted a "work-to-rule" action — doing the minimum duties required by their contract. Foose accused the union of "bamboozling" its members on the merits of the county offer.

As the school year ended, the union declared an impasse with the state Public School Labor Relations Board. The sides met with a mediator three times in July, and the tentative deal was reached late Thursday night. Without an agreement, the next step would have been arbitration with the new academic year looming. New-teacher orientation in the county begins Aug. 11, and the school year opens Aug. 25.

County Executive Ken Ulman hailed the agreement between the two sides, and noted that he and the County Council had supported the school system budget request that included salary increases.

"I commend both sides for finding a resolution," Ulman said. "We have worked hard as a community to ensure that the Howard County Public School System remains the best in the state and that our educators have the resources they deserve."

Union membership comprises separate units of teachers and support staff. As part of the tentative agreement, the support staff also will receive stipends equivalent to a half-step increase on July 1 of next year, school officials said.

If the agreements are ratified by the union, system officials said, the school board will sign the pacts at its Sept. 11 meeting.

jburris@baltsun.com