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School board approves retirement incentive programs for CCPS employees

School board members voted unanimously Wednesday to approve retirement incentive plans for four unions representing school system employees, with the goal of preventing layoffs when three schools are closed for the 2016-17 school year.

"I think our board has said collectively all along that we don't want to have to terminate employees and that's been important to us; while we recognize that … increasing compensation for employees is our No. 1 priority, the counter to that is that we don't want to lay people off. … That is the rationale behind the retirement incentive," board member Devon Rothschild said at the board's regularly scheduled meeting in Westminster.

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School board members made the unpopular decision in December to close three schools for the 2016-17 school year, with plans to close two more the following year, in order to reduce school system operating costs to make up for decreased state aid coming to the system as a result of declining student enrollment.

When the three schools slated for closure — Charles Carroll Elementary, New Windsor Middle and North Carroll High — are shuttered, school system officials had said teachers would move with students, but other positions such as school nurses, administrators and custodians, could be displaced if their positions are not absorbed through normal attrition.

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"We don't believe that through normal attrition we'll have enough spots to absorb these people, so we want to create room in the organization for the displaced staff who may not be eligible to retire," Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said.

Positions vacated by employees who opt into the program will not be replaced, Guthrie said, explaining that the purpose of the retirement incentive plan is to create room for displaced staff. About 55 people would be laid off if the school system has no vacancies to place them in, according to Jimmie Saylor, the school system's director of human resources.

Ratifications were made to bargaining agreements with four of the five unions representing school system employees — American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which represents custodians, maintenance and transportation workers; Carroll Association of School Employees, which represents school nurses, instructional assistants and clerical workers; Food Service Association; and Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Carroll County.

In three of the four agreements — with the exception being the union representing administrators and supervisors — employees will receive $1,000 per year of service with CCPS. Employees who are represented by the union for administrators and supervisors will receive $1,500 per year of service.

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There are limits for each program on how much workers may receive on an individual basis and in total.

For example, in the Food Service Association agreement, which extends the incentive just to food service managers, employees can receive $1,000 per year of service up to a maximum of $25,000. While there is no cap on the number of employees who participate, Food Service Association employees will be accepted until $75,000 is spent on the program.

According to a memorandum of understanding between the school system and individual bargaining units, the plans collectively have a cap of $1 million.

Each agreement stipulates that employees must be eligible for regular or early retirement on July 1. Employees with a minimum of 10 years of service with CCPS who qualify for the Maryland State Retirement System benefits and are eligible will be notified by the school system in a letter, Saylor said after the meeting Wednesday.

"We rank them based on years of service, and once we've spent that total dollar amount, we let the people know that they're eligible and that we have the money to honor the request," Saylor said.

Last year, the school system offered a similar retirement incentive to teachers, who are represented by Carroll County Education Association, at a one-time cost of about $2.5 million. About 78 teachers opted into the program, which produced ongoing savings of $3.25 million every year going forward, CCPS Assistant Superintendent of Administration Jon O'Neal said in an interview after the meeting.

The incentive programs are announced as contract negotiations continue between CCPS and the five unions, and as the Board of Education determines its fiscal year 2017 operating budget request. The superintendent's proposed request totals about $334.7 million, with $185.2 million requested from the county.

The school board is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the request during a special meeting that will be held Wednesday, Feb. 24.

Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, who serves as a nonvoting, ex-officio member of the Board of Education, raised a concern with members about completing contract negotiations before the county commissioners decide how much funding to allocate to the school system for FY17.

"We have a process problem in this county. … If you are negotiating with the bargaining units in the absence of a funding commitment, then you are negotiating in a vacuum," he said. "Negotiating the contract before the funding is in place only sets our employees up for disappointment."

However, Guthrie said the school system is tied to a certain timetable for negotiations. School system attorney Rochelle Eisenberg said that, according to the Annotated Code of Maryland Education Article, the county school board must submit a budget to the county commissioners by a specific date.

"We don't have any choice but to do it the way that we're doing it, so if you want that changed you have to have the change submitted by the legislature," Eisenberg said.

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