If Foose's proposal is approved, it will mark the first time in five years that educators will receive a COLA, but will represent the fifth year in a row that educators have received a step increment. To clarify, in the 2011-12 school year, educators received a delayed increment, which was implemented in halves—once at the beginning of the year and the other half at the end of the year.

In an email, spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove said the school system is "committed to making sure our employees are the highest paid in the state."

She reiterated that the school system's proposal amounts to $26.8 million in pay raises.

"We secured $21.8 million of this as a placeholder for raises through the budget process, an amount that shows the shared commitment to teachers by the county government, the Board of Education, and the Superintendent," she said. "Yet, the union leaders appear to be moving the goal posts, rather than collaborating and communicating, when this is now a time for compromise."

While HCEA is frustrated with its current contract situation, the Howard County Public School System remains an attractive workplace as 6,867 applications were received this year for 356 open teaching positions.

The school system received 68 resignations this year from teachers for reasons other than retirement, according to the school system's communications department.

Of those 68, 21 were not active teachers, but teachers whose long-term leave had expired.

Statewide comparison

As of the 2013-14 school year, a starting teacher in Howard County received $45,971, third highest in the state behind Montgomery County and Baltimore City. A teacher with a master's degree at step one in the county received $49,270, once again third highest in the state behind Montgomery County and Baltimore City, according to data from the Maryland State Department of Education.

While those are starting salary figures, the average salary for a full-time teacher in Howard County is $70,245.

With HCEA and the school system staring down mediation, other counties around the state have wrapped up their negotiations with teachers unions.

Compared to HCEA's requested four percent COLA in each of the next two years plus a step increase each year, teachers in:

• Anne Arundel County will receive a step increase this year, but no COLA.

Baltimore County teachers will receive a 3 percent one-time bonus and a step increase this year. In fiscal year 2016, educators are set to receive a 5 percent COLA and a step increase.

Carroll County did not receive a COLA or step increase this year. All employees did receive a 2.5 percent one-time bonus. Carroll teachers, which are under a multi-year salary contract agreement are looking at a 3 percent one-time bonus in 2015 and a 2.5 percent COLA and 1 percent one-time bonus in 2016.

Frederick County teachers are looking at 1.1 percent COLA plus $105 to offset increased insurance costs applied to the pay scale.

Harford County did not receive a COLA or step increase this year. Teacher salaries in Harford are negotiated annually.

• Montgomery County will receive a general wage increase in each of the next three years, including 1.5 percent this year and 2 percent in fiscal years 2016 and 2017. Eligible employees will also be receiving a step increase each year.

While Montgomery County teachers are looking at three years of increases, contracts also require employees to pay a greater share of their health insurance premium, according to school system spokesman Dana Tofig.

Over the next two years, the amount each employee pays will increase by 7 percentage points from five and 10 percent to 12 and 17 percent depending upon their plan.

Currently, Howard County teachers pay 13 to 15 percent of their health insurance premiums.

In recent weeks, Lemle has also pointed out that county firefighters and police officers will be receiving a four percent pay increase beginning July 1 through their contracts negotiated with the Howard County Council.

Although the contracts have yet to be approved —they go before the Howard County Council Thursday— they have historically been multi-year agreements.

Meanwhile, school board members will be receiving a raise following the upcoming elections. With House Bill 1093 passed, the chairman of the board will receive $17,000 annually, up from $14,000, and the other elected members will receive $15,000, up from $12,000, once the new board is installed in December.

In the Board of Education race, HCEA has endorsed Bess Altwerger, a Towson University adjunct professor, Zaneb Beams, a Columbia pediatrician, Dan Furman, a former school system attorney and current board member Cindy Vaillancourt.

Baltimore Sun reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.