Harford County Public Schools announced Thursday the county school board has reached a tentative contract agreement for next school year with the county's teachers union, the Harford County Education Association.
Though the school system did not immediately approve details, the contract calls for teachers to receive a 1 percent cost of living adjustment and a step increment raise, for those eligible, that is typically about 3 percent, the union's president said. Step raises are typically earned during first 15 years of service, after which smaller longevity increases are provided beginning at 20, 25 and 30 years and so on.
The Harford County Education Association, or HCEA, represents approximately 3,200 Harford County Public Schools employees, including teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, media specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech and hearing clinicians. The contract would take effect on July 1 and covers benefits in addition to salaries.
"I think teachers deserve more," Burbey said. But, taking into a account what he called "the current funding climate," and with it being "uncertain the county executive is going to fund the school budget," he said the agreement is a realistic one. The 1 percent COLA and step increment increase is the same as in the union's contract covering the current school year.
Burbey, who was negotiating his first contract as the union's president, said he remains concerned that Harford teachers "are still playing catch up" to the counterparts in neighboring counties. He noted that prior to this year, Harford teachers went without any cost of living adjustments or step raises for three years.
"It exacerbates the gap between us and neighboring counties," he said.
According to a school system news release, specifics of the tentative agreement, to include salary enhancements, are currently being reviewed by school board members and by HCEA members. The agreement will become official after ratification by both HCEA and the board, the release noted.
"Ratification of the agreement is expected to be placed for approval on the March 11 school board agenda," the release continued. "It is anticipated that HCEA members will ratify the agreement within the next few weeks in order for the agreement to be finalized prior to the submission of the County Executive's 2014 budget to the county council."
In recent years, negotiations between the school board and HCEA have been affected by the county government's opposition to significant increases in the county's share of the school system's budget. The union and board became embroiled in an impasse over 2011-12 contract, after the county executive cut the board's budget request. The two sides did not settle the dispute until last spring, when HCEA's the current contract was signed.
The Harford school system has about 5,450 employees, most of whom are represented by one of five recognized unions. The HCEA bargaining unit is the largest of the five.
Negotiations are still going on between the board and two of the other four unions, HCPS Director of Communications Teri Kranefeld said Thursday. Two currently do not have open contracts.
This is an updated article that contains a clarification from the school system regarding the status of negotiations with unions other than HCEA.