Engaging teachers will help Vision 2018 succeed [Commentary]

An open letter to the Howard County community:

As we close out the 2013-2014 school year, I want to share with you my thoughts on the past year, Howard County Public School System's (HCPSS) vision for the future, and my personal commitment to rewarding our employees for making HCPSS one of the best public school systems in the nation.

Each school year has its high and low points for students, parents, and educators, and they often vary widely, depending on whom you ask and when you ask about them. We will never be able to smooth the trials and tribulations of enrolling in a new elementary school, the uncertainty and uneasiness of middle school's changing social circles, or the excitement of commencement and students' anticipated next step. But we can, and do, work together to provide an environment that stimulates intellectual curiosity, keeps students and staff safe, and supports the development of a solid foundation of skills for every student who enters our school system. Our pursuit of this goal and plan to continue enhancing our excellence is contained in Vision 2018: Fulfilling the Promise of Preparation (Vision 2018), which we released in July 2013.

As we prepare to enter into the second year of our five year plan, I want to discuss the importance of our educators and associated staff in achieving the goals articulated in Vision 2018. Simply put, without engaging our teachers in a meaningful way, Vision 2018 will not succeed. For me, this begins by reaching agreement with teachers on a new employment contract. It is my first and foremost priority this summer.

As we engage in these negotiations, let me be clear: We stand for Teachers. The Board of Education recognizes the outstanding work our educators are doing on behalf of our students. For that reason, we are proposing an immediate salary increase (COLA) of three percent on July 1, 2014, for all teachers and para-professionals, plus the implementation of incremental (step) increases of up to five percent for all eligible employees, no later than March 2015. This is a well-deserved and significant raise that is very competitive when compared to what is offered in counties similar to ours. Most important, it demonstrates our commitment to rewarding those who have made Howard County a destination school system and continues the Board of Education's long standing tradition of supporting annual pay raises - something we have done consistently, even during the most challenging economic periods. And, it reinforces our shared commitment to make Howard County's educators among the most highly paid in the state. Any representation to the contrary is patently false, misleading, and unethical.

Finally, it is important to note that in this proposal, our employees' benefits are protected. Howard County is the only school system in the state of Maryland with a fully funded budget. While some other school districts have had to cut benefits or increase the employee share of premium payments in order to fund pay raises, Howard County is making no changes to either employee benefits or the current premium payment structure.

I believe the current proposal is generous and well-deserved. To date, HCPSS principals and other staff have accepted our offers because they recognize the value of what is being presented to them. As our negotiations progress, I intend to continue to be as open and transparent as possible. Doing so will avoid misunderstanding, engage our educators in the process, and validate our unparalleled support of these employees.

As we finish out the last few weeks of school, I want to extend my sincere gratitude to our teachers, students, parents, staff, and the larger Howard County community who make our school system one of the nation's best. Education is being buffeted by many changes, but our strategic vision is clear, our commitment true, and our journey towards sustained excellence unending. Thank you for being a part of it.

Renee A. Foose, Ed.D.

Superintendent, Howard County Public School System

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