Anne Arundel

Anne Arundel Council rejects school board's request to reshuffle funds for teacher salaries

As Anne Arundel school board members discussed efforts to address the achievement gap in the system on Wednesday, they called upon county citizens to not only get involved but to understand that the arduous task needs to be properly funded.

The board's action came two days after the County Council struck down its efforts to move budget funds from administration to instruction, citing salary agreements the board struck with the teachers' union.


"If you really want to do something for these kids, this is what it's going to cost,'" said board member Eugene Peterson. "You can't keep talking about, 'We're going to be the only school district to eliminate the achievement gap' and then not pay for it. We need to start putting money behind it."

The school board is faced with such challenges as the system prepares to open its doors to a record 76,000 children for the school year that starts next week.


A representative for the school board made a routine request before the County Council this week, asking for approval to move funds in its annual $936 million operating budget, in order to pay for a 1 percent raise for county teachers.

These budget transfers, which help align the school board's priorities with the county-allocated funding, are typically approved about three times a year. And never before, school and county officials said, could they recall a transfer request being denied.

But this week, the County Council, in a 5-1 vote, refused to grant the transfer of about $988,000 in funding for administration staff to teacher pay, accusing the school system of attempting to grant teachers raises, despite countywide salary decreases to employees. The request also included about $2 million to cover increased fuel costs.

Councilman Derek Fink, a Republican from Pasadena, voted no, saying the request was already rejected during the county budget process earlier this year. "The county executive didn't approve it," said Fink. "The County Council certainly didn't approve it. And now you're paying for it."

School officials dispute the notion that the funding is a pay raise, saying that it only extends a temporary cost-of-living increase that was agreed to during arbitration with the county teachers' union and that teachers' salaries remain at the same level.

Alex Sachnowicz, the school system's chief operating officer, stressed that the funding for the cost-of-living increases came from administration costs and the board of education was not asking for increased funding.

"We have acted with a lot of restraint in terms of our operating budget," said Sachnowicz.

County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, cheered the council's decision, citing the 4.6 percent salary decreases through furloughing for most county employees.


"This vote established an important principle: That the Board of Education is not an island," said Leopold. "In these challenging budget times, there should be a spirit of shared sacrifice in government."

County Budget Director John Hammond decried the request, saying it was "not consistent" with the county's budget priorities and urged the council to defeat the transfer request.

"We funded everything," said Hammond. "Except the pay increases."

Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said that the school board will "continue to weigh its options" as it goes forward with budget and contract discussions.

"We support the negotiated agreement as we negotiated it," said Maxwell. "The concessions we received from the unions are greater than the increase in base salary that they received. I don't know if we want to be in a position where we say that saving money, regardless of how that money is allocated, is not a good thing. We think it is a good thing."

School system spokesman Bob Mosier said that reopening negotiations with the unions could be even more costly.


"This school system has made fiscally prudent decisions," he said. "We have cut more than 200 positions, all but 50 outside the schoolhouse. Over the last three years, the four-day workweek effort has saved $584,000. We have a rolling hiring freeze that has kept positions vacant longer than in past years. These are tough things to tackle for everybody."

Teacher Association of Anne Arundel County head Tim Mennuti said that the move might ultimately prompt some county teachers to go elsewhere.

"We've seen teachers leave Anne Arundel County to go to other counties where their step [salaries are] being paid, where their longevity is being paid, and there are smaller class sizes," Mennuti added. "We're waiting to see how this is going to play out because it has implications and replications for the entire county."