Carroll teacher's union holds rally to boost support for better teacher salaries

To draw attention to their cause as upcoming contract negotiations with Carroll County Public Schools get underway, the county teacher's union held a rally to bolster support for securing teacher raises and competitive salary increases on Monday afternoon.

A group of more than 130 gathered outside the county teacher's union headquarters in Westminster on Monday afternoon to draw attention to an effort to boost teachers' salaries, which the union says are not competitive with other counties in Maryland.

Earlier in the day, negotiations teams from Carroll County Public Schools and the Carroll County Education Association met to lay the groundwork for upcoming negotiation sessions.


"Let me ask you a couple of questions: Are you satisfied with our present salaries? Are you satisfied with the current salary scale out there? Are you satisfied with the present Master Agreement?" Teresa McCulloh, president of the Carroll County Education Association, asked a group of more than 130 supporters who replied with a resounding "no" after each question.

Teachers wore orange, a color chosen to represent the union's affiliate organization, the Maryland State Education Association, but also selected to stand out from communities that have held rallies and attended school board meetings to speak out against a plan to close their local schools, McCulloh said.


Teachers received a one-time bonus in addition to a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment in fiscal year 2016, which began July 1, as part of a three-year contract signed in 2013. The COLA was the first such raise since 2009.

The increase boosted the annual starting salary for teachers with a bachelor's degree from the lowest in the state at $40,400 in the 2014-2015 school year to $43,000, which is higher than starting salaries in Harford and Frederick counties.

Still, Carroll is the only county in the state where teachers are six steps behind in salary placement, which means that steps do not equate to experience as they typically do in other jurisdictions. School system officials estimate it will cost about $5 million for each step increase.

McCulloh said the union hopes to close the salary gap with contract negotiations that has made teacher salaries in Carroll less competitive than other counties. However, she does not expect teachers to get back to a salary schedule where steps equate to experience.

For example, a CCPS teacher with eight years of experience and a bachelor's degree would be placed on Step 1 of the salary schedule, according to Jimmie Saylor, the school system's director of human resources, who will serve as chief negotiator for CCPS. This means a teacher with eight years of experience on Step 1 would earn an annual salary of $43,000, whereas a teacher in Frederick County with the same level of experience would earn $45,004 on Step 3.

Ann Tiboni, a teacher at Elderburg Elementary School who has taught in the school system for 27 years, was among the crowd with Michelle Pelletier, a part-time teacher who works at Mechancsville and Piney Ridge elementary schools. Both agreed school system morale has been low this year.

"When we go to retire, we're not going to be at the point where we should be," Pelletier said, who has taught for 20 years but is on Step 12 on the salary schedule. "So many teachers have left for positions in Howard County; when you look at the pay scale there, I could go to Howard County and make [much more]."

The plea for increased compensation comes as the school system contemplates closing schools and redistricting students as part of a solution to solve funding issues resulting from declining student enrollment, which is connected to state funding.

Commissioners Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, and Richard Weaver, R-District 2, spoke at the rally, urging teacher's union members to support school closings and redistricting. A committee formed by school system Superintendent Stephen Guthrie, the Boundary Adjustment Committee, has put forth five options for school closings and redistricting.

One plan calls for the closure of one school — Charles Carroll Elementary —while three others call for closing five schools. Another option was presented at the Board of Education's Oct. 26 work session that would close three schools as early as next year, and then possibly close two more the following year.

"My perspective as a county commissioner, and you've got one or two on board here, whatever the Board of Education comes up with on their side we're going to try to match it on our side," said Frazier, a member of the teacher's union who works at Century High School. "We're not going to say, 'Thank you for doing the heavy lifting,' we're going to come to the table as well. We're going to do, hopefully, what we need to do to close the gap."

But Frazier said the Board of Education should be looking at closing five schools — not three.


"If they're closing three schools ... instead of saving $7.2 million dollars a year, they're gonna save about $4 or $5 [million]," Frazier said, "Taxes will have to come up with that money because it just isn't there."

Weaver, who retired from teaching after a long career at North Carroll High, acknowledged that buildings will have to be closed and there will have to be comprehensive redistricting to adjust to declining student enrollment, but said the Board of Education must consider buildings in need of repair.

"If we take capital improvement funds and have to put it into buildings, we can't take that money and put it into salaries," Weaver said. "So they have to look at older buildings, redistrict around those, as my interpretation of this, take that money and put it into salaries."

McCulloh declined to comment on whether the teacher's union supports closings.

"We still are making no comment on school closings. However, [we] continue to provide support to our teacher's supporting the Master Agreement to ensure quality education is delivered to our students," McCulloh said before the rally.

However, Larry Alvarez, a teacher at Westminster High School and a parent of three students in Carroll public schools, said he believes school closures will be necessary to prevent experienced teachers from leaving the county.

"The teachers in front of my kids means more than the buildings," Alvarez said.

Closing schools and redistricting, which has drawn criticism from numerous communities throughout the county, will not allow the school system to provide raises, Guthrie said in a recent interview.

"We're not going to raise enough through school closures by itself," Guthrie said, adding that in addition to savings from school closures and redistricting, the county would have to increase funding to CCPS and the state will have to stop decreasing the county's funding.

Guthrie spoke of a need to give employees competitive salary increases during an Oct. 9 meeting with the Carroll County Board of Commissioners. That is in part why the school system is requesting a $14 million increase from the county in fiscal year 2017 from the current spending year, he said.

McCulloh acknowledged that funding for teacher salary raises will have to come from elsewhere.

"And we know that that's three places: at the Board of Education level, the county level and the state level," McCulloh said.


The CCEA feels it has the support of elected officials it has endorsed who have made teacher salaries their priority, McCulloh said. "We have support; they just need to find funding," she said.

McCulloh said CCEA's negotiations team has been working since last spring to prepare for contract negotiations, creating language changes and adjusting figures.

"We are taking a serious approach to our bargaining this year," McCulloh said.

Although no specific timeline has been laid out for the negotiations, Guthrie said his hope is that negotiations conclude by February, in time for inclusion in the school system's budget.



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