Harford County school board, teachers union approve agreement for one-time bonus

Both the Harford County Board of Education and the county's teachers union have voted to approve an agreement that will give Harford's teachers the same one-time $625 bonus other school and county employees received in December.

During Monday's board of education meeting, the board, without any discussion, ratified an addendum to the teachers' contract that permits the bonus to be paid. The vote came after the Harford County Education Association, the union representing Harford teachers, ratified the addendum earlier this month.

The $625 stipend, which was offered by Harford County Executive David Craig late last year, will be given to the 3,200 teachers represented by the HCEA if the Harford County Council also approves it, which is likely now that the matter is no longer embroiled in the teachers' current and past contract negotiations.

Roughly 99 percent of HCEA's members who voted on the agreement voted for it, HCEA President Randy Cerveny said after the meeting.

Prior to Monday's school board vote, several teachers and the head of their union had much to say about school funding in general.

The meeting room at the A.A. Roberty Building in Bel Air was standing room only; the vast majority occupied by Harford County teachers and their supporters all wearing red "Save Our Schools" stickers.

In speaking to the board, Cerveny commented on the recent news that Harford's seniors are not performing on par with surrounding suburbs on Advanced Placement exams.

"Funding does have its effects on the schools," he said, explaining that the lack of adequate funding in schools, including for teacher salaries, leads to lower levels of performance in the classroom.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's recent proposal to push back half the cost of teacher pensions onto the county would create an even bigger gap in school funding if passed, Cerveny added.

"There's nothing left in the budget to cut," he said. "Only teachers and programs."

Cerveny also said if there isn't an increase in funding, the school system will need to provide an explanation of how this will impact the community and its children.

Brian Rheinhardt, a 14-year-teacher who teaches English at Patterson Mill High School, focused his comments on his displeasure with the board of education.

"Negotiation tactics are hostile," he said, referring to a previous board's decision to change the teacher's health benefits package. Rheinhardt also cited the board's refusal to negotiate the one-time bonus with Craig, as well as last year's contract negotiations debacle.

The bonus payment became caught in the middle of an ongoing struggle between HCEA and the school system over the teachers' 2011-12 contract the two negotiated last year that the county government didn't fund. That contract is the subject of binding arbitration before a state labor board.

Rheinhardt asked the board and audience how education would change if the teachers acted like the school board.

"The school system would crumble," he said, answering his own question.

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