More than 50 people came to the Wednesday, Feb. 6, public hearing for the Carroll County Board of Education’s proposed 2020 budget, many of them teachers dressed in red who used their three minutes of public comment back to back for nearly an hour to ask for pay raises and the appreciation they say the raises would signify.
“I try to avoid being redundant when delivering my messages,” said Carroll County Education Association President Teresa McCulloh, who also spoke about salary increases at the January and December BOE meetings.
“However, recently, I have been a recipient at many meetings in several settings of repeated promises, pledges and vows from elected officials. I continue to hear over and over that educators’ raises and compensation is a top priority,” she said.
“Now is the time to live up to and follow through with this priority. Actions speak louder than words, and I quote a former vice president: ‘Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.’ Let this be the year of the educator.”
Kindergarten teacher Kathryn Henn invited Commissioners Stephen Wantz and Dennis Frazier to come sit in her classroom one day — commenting on their feedback at Tuesday’s joint Board of County Commissioners and Board of Education meeting, when both talked about the importance of salaries over the 29 new staff members proposed in Superintendent Steve Lockard’s budget.
“I invite you to come shadow me for a day, come see what it’s like for a school of over 600 children with needs that are not being met,” Henn said, “with a staff that feels defeated before they even walk through the front door in the morning.”
Many teachers said they would rather the Board of Education prioritize salary increases over the 29 new positions, but Henn said assistants are needed because teachers are overwhelmed.
Allison Kunert, a teacher as well as a single mother with children living at home, took her three minutes to talk about how she has to work two jobs.
“For me a raise in pay is not the difference between being able to eat out or not, buying name brand or generic. For me the difference is being able to buy a new dishwasher when the one I have stops working suddenly or hand-washing all my dishes until I can afford to replace it — not fun. The difference is having to work a second job or not having to,” she said.
“I started working at Target in November. You might have seen me there — because everyone else and their mother did. People asked me why I was working there, and I truly was embarrassed being honest and telling them it was so my children could have gifts under the tree at Christmas.”
She continued, “There are other teachers that work at Target that work in our county. It’s hard to work a second job on top of teaching. The difference is being able to retire at a decent age or working well beyond the time I physically need to stop. I think I could very well be teaching until I’m 80-something or other. That’s not going to be fun either.”
Her son, Dylan, 10, also got up to speak and said he felt bad he needed to borrow a band instrument instead of getting his own, and that he hopes his mother can be paid more so their family can have everything they need.
Other teachers brought up former colleagues who left Carroll County to get better salaries, or the fact that their children are making more money than them despite their high levels of education and experience.
Robert Herbstromer, a resident of Finksburg and teacher at East Middle School, has been teaching for 43 years.
“One of the main reasons my wife and I came to Carroll County was because of the school system,” he said. “Both of our sons are products of Carroll County Public Schools and have been met with great success as a result of the fine education they’ve been provided.”
His son, Adam, he said, graduated from medical school last May and his other son, Ryan, is an entrepreneur in Westminster.
“Ryan, who is 24, made twice as much as me even though I have 43 years of experience and 60 credits past my master’s degree,” Herbstromer said. “What matters to me is my grandchildren. Will they have the same education my boys did if we can’t afford to pay for the best teachers?”
Another teacher, Gayle Sands, said she has 17 years of experience and said her daughter, with five years of experience, is surpassing her salary in Montgomery County schools. She did the math, she said: If she were working in Montgomery County, she would be making $35,000 a year more than she makes now.
“My concern really isn’t for me,” she said, “because I'm toast. I got two, three more years. My concern isn’t about the money for me. It’s about keeping those teachers here who are going to take my place, and the place of all those others of us who are getting ready to leave for some reason or other.”
The Board of Education will adopt its operating budget next Wednesday, Feb. 13, and it will later go to the Board of County Commissioners for approval.