Teachers Association of Baltimore County President Cindy Sexton — surrounded by supporters dressed in red for solidarity — showed up to Tuesday night’s school board meeting with a letter that had more than 3,000 signatures urging the school board to work with the County Council to resolve budgeting issues so that employees could receive their promised historic raises.
“Every county leader has expressed its support for this compensation package,” Sexton said. “Every leader has said they want to find a way to get to yes. Our educators have waited long enough.”
Those surrounding Sexton held printed lists of names, stretching their arms in the air so the sheets of paper could be seen above the front desk. Sexton said thousands of other TABCO members also wore red Tuesday.
“When can we schedule this meeting so we can show our educators ... that you both need and respect us?” Sexton asked.
The budget has been in dispute since early August. After the school board reached tentative agreements with its employee unions concerning pay raises for faculty and staff midsummer, the board unanimously approved a $50 million midyear supplemental budget request that still has to be voted upon by the council.
Though a vote has yet to take place, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. published an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun against the budget supplement request, saying the school board’s decision was “irresponsible.” He wrote that the board should look for funds within its own budget instead of asking for more from taxpayers. Other council members echoed Olszewski’s message.
Under the tentative agreements, Teachers Association of Baltimore County members would receive an average pay increase of nearly $5,800 as well as transformative raises for the next five years. AFSCME employees would have their minimum wage upped to $15 per hour.
The letter from TABCO describes how stalled negotiations between the school board and council hurts educators, students and the community. The letter cites how the school system experienced 9.2% employee turnover, a rate “over 7% more than projected.”.
“As the school year has begun, our educators are once again going above and beyond to meet not only the academic needs of our students, but the social, emotional, physical and mental health needs as well,” Sexton said. “With the current vacancies, our educators are being called on to do extra work, provide more for students and work with their peers to be sure that every student gets what they need. But we need to talk about what our educators need, what they need to draw them to teach here and what we need to do so they decide to stay in the schools here.”
The school board discussed and voted on a different budget matter, their state capital budget recommendation for fiscal year 2024, as part of the official agenda. The budget recommendation, which passed unanimously, includes proposals for school building replacements, repairs and additions, and will cost $294,973,000. The proposal will require the county to match funds before state approval.
William Burke, executive director for the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, also spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, and asked the board to change how it handles budget negotiations. He asked that board members go forward negotiating within their limits and maintaining regular meetings with stakeholders and the council to avoid current obstacles.
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Board member Kathleen Causey said she stands with all those who spoke out about compensation and that past board votes show the members’ support of the pay raises. Additionally, Causey said Superintendent Darryl L. Williams has sent over additional documentation to the council to show how funding for the raises could play out.
Causey called on the council to take its own steps and schedule a meeting to finalize the budgetary issues.
“It’s September 13,” Causey said. “And other counties and districts have gotten this done. If people are concerned about what’s not sustainable, it’s not supporting our staff with what they’re worth.”
One teacher who stood with Sexton said surrounding counties pay better. Sexton said Baltimore County ranks ninth in the state for educator career earnings. Another teacher said the staffing crisis and “funding limbo” is an equity issue, affecting socioeconomically disadvantaged and minority students the most.
A Spanish teacher spoke out about heavy workloads at her school and how Spanish teachers rarely stay longer than one year at her campus. She said her department has never been fully staffed and that staffing issues are related to workload. She said she is burnt out less than one month into the school year.
“This is my dream job, and I don’t know if I’m coming back next year,” the teacher said. “The least this board, the County Council and the county executive can do is fund our raises.
“If you don’t compensate us, we will leave.”