Howard school board, teachers' union reach tentative agreement

The Howard County Education Association and the Board of Education have reached a tentative agreement in their negotiations, the two organizations announced Aug. 8.

Under the agreement, employees represented by the teachers' union will receive a full-step salary increase this fiscal year, which started July 1. The agreement also includes more flexible bereavement and sick leave, better tuition reimbursement and on-the-job accommodations for breast-feeding mothers, HCEA president Paul Lemle said.

“We were able to negotiate benefits that were more conscious of families this year,” he said. ‘We’re particularly proud to augment HCEA’s sick leave bank with a donation-based leave exchange that will allow educators paid time off if a spouse or a dependent becomes seriously ill.”

Currently, HCEA runs two sick leave banks for 6,800 eligible employees. Under that system, an employee can give up a day of their sick leave, creating a pool of days another employee can use in the event of a “catastrophic illness,” Lemle said. Most often, that means unplanned complications in pregnancies or a cancer diagnosis, Lemle said, which usually results in a person needing more sick leave than they have accumulated. The extension means that now employees can use the bank if a spouse or dependent is the one ill. It would go into effect by Jan. 1, Lemle said.

Another provision of the new agreement is that negotiations with the union begin two months earlier than in previous years, and work on next year's agreement will start Nov. 1. Negotiations this year extended well into the summer, past the time frame in which other bargaining units reached and signed agreements with the board.

School officials applauded the agreement, with Superintendent Renee Foose saying that it “allows us to align salaries to (teachers’) vital role, despite a tough fiscal climate.”

“Howard County public schools have long enjoyed a stellar reputation, and our teachers drive our students' success,” Board Chairman Frank Aquino said in a news release. “We are pleased that, despite financial pressures, we can offer compensation levels that will continue to attract and retain the very best staff.”

In a separate release, Lemle said the association intends to have a tentative agreement on salaries before the presentation of Superintendent Renee Foose's budget in January.

“Our members have communicated their relief and support for the agreement, but they also understand that salary and benefits have not been improved since the beginning of the 2008 recession,” Lemle said. “In the round of bargaining which begins this fall, we will address the superintendent's goal of compensating Howard's educators on par with those in Montgomery and Calvert counties.”

Educators in those counties, Lemle said, have higher lifetime earnings that Howard teachers, and while Howard teachers have received pay raises every year along the step pay scale system, those steps have not changed since 2008. That means the pay raises teachers receive are not in line with cost-of-living increases and inflation, Lemle said.

The agreement is set to be voted on by HCEA's Representative Assembly during the week of Aug. 19, and ratified by the full membership the week of Aug. 26.

An official signing of the new agreement is set for the board meeting Sept. 12, along with the signing of the agreement with the Howard County Education Association-Educational Support Professionals.

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