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Carroll County Public Schools educators rally for salary increases

Carroll County Public Schools educators, most in red shirts, stood on each side of the sidewalk outside the front entrance of the system’s central office in Westminster shortly before Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting. Almost all were holding signs with sayings like “actions speak louder than words,” “we are worth more than a bonus” and “are we really valued?”

It was to protest the state of ongoing negotiations between them and the school system, and demand salary increases for educators.

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The Carroll County Education Association, which represents more than 2,000 teachers, special educators, counselors, speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists and nurses, wants salary increases “that build long-term improvements and contribute to the lifetime earnings, not bonuses that disappear next year,” Teresa McCulloh, president of CCEA, said in a news release.

She added surrounding counties are making that commitment, yet the starting salary for a Carroll County teacher with a bachelor’s degree and the standard professional certificate is $48,000. The goal is to set the starting annual salary for teachers to $60,000 by 2026 based on the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, an education reform policy. And if investments are not made now, the system won’t reach that goal, according to the CCEA release.

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“We surveyed our members before we even went into negotiations,” McCulloh said in an interview. “Our membership clearly stated that they want salary increases that build long-term improvement and contribute to life long earnings.”

During the rally, approximately 70 educators chanted and gave personal testimonies. One of them was Kelley McDonough, an eighth grade social studies teacher at Mount Airy Middle School.

“This was the hardest year I ever taught,” she said.

She added she worried about teachers who had to take care of their families because, with a son in college, she struggles to only take care of herself. McDonough, who is on the negotiations team, said she had the realization “I don’t want to work with these people anymore” for not feeling properly compensated for her hard work.

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Tony Roman, a teacher at Manchester Valley High School, said during the citizen participation portion of the school board meeting that teachers are leaving the school system due to compensation after asking the board to fulfil its negotiation request.

And Karen Withers, a teacher at Cranberry Station Elementary School, announced to the board that she would be resigning after saying the board did not back up teachers throughout the pandemic.

Celeste Jordan, CCEA’s incoming vice president, said Wednesday there have been six years since the “economic downturn” when educators did not receive step increases or raises. A reason educators want salary increases instead of a bonus is because it’s pensionable.

Negotiations between CCEA and the school system have been happening since February. The union filed a request for impasse declaration with the Public School Labor Relations Board, or PSLRB.

“When you are in negotiations and both sides cannot reach an agreement, then there is a time an impasse is filed with PSLRB,” McCulloh said in an interview.

If PSLRB determines the parties are at an impasse, she said, both will enter mediation. If PSLRB determines they are not, it will direct the parties back to the bargaining table. Ryan Heilman, chief negotiator for CCEA, said in an interview PSLRB did allow mediation in 2016 and it resulted in a compromise.

Heilman addressed the group during the rally and noted that other counties, like Baltimore, Prince George’s, Washington, Talbot and Charles all had at least 1% step increase. “Who did I not mention?” he shouted to the crowd. “Carroll,” the audience responded.

McCulloh said in the release the board has the money to settle the contract and members have put their lives on the line this year.

“We’re here to let the board of education know praise is not the same as a raise,” she said during the rally. “The outcome of these negotiations will tell all.”

Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners approved granting the Board of Education an additional $1 million to fund bonuses for school staff on the condition the school system matches the funds.

“I certainly believe they deserve more money and should get more money,” Carroll County Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said. He added later “if we had more ongoing money, we would be willing to give more.”

Frazier said the educators worked hard during the pandemic after having to teach online and later return to the school buildings. However, the county does not have more money to give.

CCPS school officials did not return request for comment by 7 p.m.

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