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News Maryland Harford County

Harford teachers denied countywide bonuses

Because of a disagreement between the Harford County executive and teachers union, teachers and others who work for the school system will not receive a $1,250 bonus like every other county employee this year.

After County Executive David R. Craig introduced legislation in November for council approval of the one-time bonuses for all county employees, the teachers' union said it couldn't accept the payments because of collective-bargaining laws. The teachers union has been involved in a continuing dispute with the school board over raises.

This week, Craig used a line-item veto to prohibit all school employees from receiving the money. He said he felt the teachers' union was trying to persuade the County Council to change the bonus legislation to influence the salary dispute.

"That wasn't the intent at all," said Randy Cerveny, the Harford County Education Association president. Rather, he said, the way the bill was written, the union couldn't by law accept the bonuses.

"We want to work to get this money to pass it on to the teachers," Cerveny said.

Peter Rost, a county fourth-grade teacher, said he felt the union wants to "use it as leverage in the negotiations, which leads to frustration" on both sides. The association is "gambling with other people's money," he said.

The council approved legislation that included an amendment changing the wording from a "one-time bonus" to "payment," said Craig, who had opposed such a move because it could help the teachers union argue that the county could support a salary increase for teachers.

The union and Board of Education agreed in January to a 2 percent cost-of-living raise, as well as step raises contingent on the county government providing about $14 million. The deal fell through, however, when Craig declined to increase the county's share of the school budget.

HCEA hired a financial consultant who identified areas where funding could be found, causing union representatives to raise the dispute with the labor relations board.

HCEA and the county's Board of Education met with officials Friday from the five-member Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board, which has yet to issue a decision.

Craig and the school board argued the money was not in the county budget to support a salary increase.

He said the surplus this year is money "you can only find … once," and wouldn't necessarily show up in future years to fund raises. He added that county officials were unaware of a potential surplus until October, months after teacher contract negotiations began.

County government, sheriff's office and public library employees were not affected by the veto. While HCEA, which represents about 3,200 teachers and other school staff, is the only union to not agree to the terms of the bonus, the veto prohibits the transfer of county funds to the Board of Education, therefore affecting all unions that negotiate with the school board.

The school board had a memorandum of understanding with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County; the Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical and Supervisory Professionals; and the Harford County Educational Services Council. Those employees will not be eligible for the raise.

Four other unions had agreed to the bonus, which will be given in a payment this month and in June.

Craig said new legislation could be created to give bonuses to school employees but not until after the new year because the council is not scheduled to hold any more legislative sessions before Jan. 3. The council must approve any such measure.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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