As the Carroll County Board of Education prepares for upcoming contract negotiations with the county teachers union this fall, both organizations say securing competitive salaries and reducing workloads for teachers will be top priorities. But some teachers have expressed skepticism at whether contract negotiations will improve their salaries.
"They've got to do something. It's a whole generation of us that are getting shafted by the whole deal," said Sean Lee, a math teacher at South Carroll High School, who has been teaching for nine years in the Carroll school system.
Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said he doesn't like a school system trend of filling about 70 percent of open positions with new teachers, and he would like to strike a balance between new and experienced teachers when hiring.
"We need to offer more competitive salaries to teachers with experience, and there's a variety of ways to do that, which would be a product of the negotiations," said Guthrie, who in his position as superintendent also serves as secretary for the Board of Education. "It's a priority for the Board [of Education] and me."
As part of a three-year contract signed in 2013, teachers received a 2.5 percent one-time bonus on their base salary in fiscal year 2014. In FY15, teachers received a one-time bonus on their base salary. In FY16, which began July 1, teachers receive a 1 percent one-time bonus in addition to a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment, the first such raise since 2009.
The salary for first-year teachers with a bachelor's degree will increase from $40,400, the lowest in the state, to $43,000 in the 2015-16 academic year. According to comparative teacher salary data compiled by CCPS, the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor's degree will be higher than those in Frederick and Harford counties in the 2015-16 school year.
"It's not fair at all. … It's a slap in the face," Lee said, "It's them trying to make things better for the new people, but what about the rest of us with experience?"
Still, the starting salary for teachers in Carroll has stayed relatively static over time — at $40,400 since the 2008-09 school year, when it increased from $40,000 in the previous year, according to Maryland State Department of Education professional salary schedules.
Teachers already working for CCPS say the current salary schedule is unfair because steps on the salary schedule do not equate to experience, as they typically would. For example, all new hires with a bachelor's degree and one to eight years of teaching experience are placed on the first step, according to Chantress Baptist, CCPS supervisor of human resources.
In 2009, the average salary for teachers in Carroll was $59,568, compared to the statewide average of $63,436, according to comparative salary data compiled by CCPS. In 2014, the average teacher salary in Carroll had declined to $56,066, while the statewide average had increased to $65,477, thus widening the gap.
Carroll is now the only county in Maryland whose teachers are five steps behind in salary placement.
For example, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and five years of experience —still on the first step in Carroll — can go to Frederick County and make $45,044 on Step 3 (not counting a step increase that Frederick teachers will receive Dec. 1); go to Harford County and earn $43,471 on Step 2; go to Baltimore County and earn $48,533 on Step 6; or go to Howard County and earn $51,810 on Step 6, according to the FY16 comparative teacher salary data.
"The lack of salary increase is definitely affecting morale," said Amy VanHook, who resigned this year from her teaching position at Westminster High School. "I definitely have heard more about it [from teachers] this year."
Guthrie said it is hard to say what sort of an impact the current salaries have on the classroom.
"Teachers who work for us, regardless of the salary they make, do an effective job," Guthrie said. "I don't know that you can draw a conclusion to say the higher-paid teachers are more-effective teachers, but I know the reduction of the workload is just as important; we have to reduce workloads."
Board of Education President James Doolan said his priority is to bring salaries for teachers and other school system employees back to a level at which they are competitive with surrounding counties.
In 2009, the average teacher salary in Carroll was higher than some comparable counties, such as Baltimore, Cecil, Charles, Harford and Washington.
"I want to bring us back to being more competitive — at least to the middle of the state," Doolan said. "We know that we're never going to be at the top."
The teacher salary schedule will be compressed from 22 steps to 20 in the 2015-16 school year, meaning that in most instances teachers will move two steps down from where they previously were on the schedule. For example, Lee, who has a master's degree, said that although he should be on Step 9, he fell back to Step 1 in the upcoming school year because of the compressed schedule.
It is not the first time the school system has compressed the salary scale for employees.
In the 2000-01 school year the system had a 27-step salary schedule, and in the 2005-06 school year it was compressed to 26 steps. In the 2009-10 academic year, the system moved from a 25-step scale to a 24-step scale. In the 2012-13 school year, the schedule was compressed to 22 steps.
"They need to find a way — they literally need to go back and put us on the step we belong on," Lee said. "That's what should happen — that's the right thing for them to do."
Guthrie said at the board's July 8 meeting that he is concerned about a trend of increased teacher resignations.
"I did express that I was concerned about the trend — I am still concerned about the trend. I can't reach any conclusions until I know what the equal comparison numbers are," Guthrie said in an interview Thursday.
Jimmie Saylor, director of human resources for CCPS, said in an email that as of July 8, the system had received 86 teacher resignations. Last year the school system received 102 teacher resignations, more than double the total of 47 in the previous year.
Saylor said they were receiving two to four resignations each day, adding that historically the number of resignations per day increases closer to July 15, the deadline for tenured teachers to submit resignations without breaking their contract.
Teachers with three years of satisfactory performance are considered tenured, according to Baptist. If a tenured teacher resigns after July 15, the system is not obligated to release them from the contract, meaning their license to teach in Maryland is suspended for one year, according to the Code of Maryland Regulations.
Neither Saylor nor Guthrie would provide the total number of resignations as of July 15, saying they will wait to release a report of the information at the board's Aug. 12 meeting.
"The numbers we have today are meaningless — it's the numbers at the end of the summer and the comparison numbers," Guthrie said on Thursday, the day after the July 15 deadline. "I wouldn't draw any conclusions from the numbers today or the numbers from yesterday or next week."
Anecdotally, school officials expressed concern about the number of teachers going to nearby Howard County, which offered an early retirement incentive this year, creating more openings than usual.
According to information provided by Rebecca Amani-Dove, a spokeswoman for Howard County Public Schools, the system had 218 people opt into early retirement.
"Since they're replacing those positions, they have a higher number of need and our teachers are certainly a qualified pool to fill that need," Guthrie said.
Despite numerous requests, Amani-Dove did not provide information about the number of teachers hired who previously worked for CCPS.
William Yeo resigned in May from his teaching position at Westminster High for a better-paying teacher position in Howard. Yeo, a Baltimore City resident, said he is engaged to be married and wants to buy a house, which would have been a stretch on his annual salary of about $43,000 with CCPS.
He will earn about $9,000 more at his Howard County Public Schools position, he said.
"I feel bad that I was given all these opportunities," said Yeo, who was initially hired as an instructional assistant before completing his degree at McDaniel College, "but I still think it was the right decision."
Former Westminster High teacher VanHook, a Finksburg resident, who taught in Carroll public schools for 12 years, said that although she loves Carroll County and her students, she resigned from her position at Westminster High for a higher-paying one at Hammond High School in Howard.
"They gave me the steps that I was due," said VanHook, who says she will now make nearly $17,000 more than she did working for CCPS.
Lee, who lives in Westminster, said he has no plans to leave his job at South Carroll. He likes working near his home and doesn't want to commute to a county that's farther away for more pay.
But with six kids at home, Lee said, "It just gets harder and harder as the benefits get worse."
The school system will need a significantly higher amount of funding in their budget for next year in order to give teachers a raise, according to Guthrie.
This year, the system received $169.5 million from the county, while they received about $128.8 million from the state.
Christopher Hartlove, chief financial officer for the school system, said in an email that he believes the school system is about $25 million behind in catching up with missed steps for teachers on the salary schedule. It would cost about $5 million to catch up with each missed step, according to Drew Sexton, CCPS supervisor of budget and grants.
State aid to Carroll schools has been declining along with enrollment due to low birth rates and negative net migration in the county.
School officials have said the funding issue is one that must be solved by county government.
Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said Carroll's school system is struggling to stay competitive with surrounding and comparable counties as it loses state funding because of declining student enrollment.
"We've really taken a heck of a hit at the state level," Howard said.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said the school system has an overhead problem.
"We've got too much cost, and I'm not going to raise taxes so I can institutionalize inefficiencies — we've got excess capacity and we've got to downsize," Rothschild said.
Because the Board of Education can't raise its own sources of revenue, its main sources of revenue are from county and state allocations.
The school system's funding requests for the coming years are projected to be: $176.3 million in 2017, $183.4 million in 2018, $198.3 million in 2019 and $206.2 million in 2020, figures that took into account mandatory inflationary increases, counteracting decreases in state funding, employee compensation and a phase-in of Guthrie's Vision 2018 improvements.
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Meanwhile, the county's projected allocations for the school system are projected to be: $170.9 million in 2017; $174.3 million in 2018; $176.6 million in 2019; and $180.2 million in 2020.
The Board of Education and the Carroll County Board of Commissioners have been meeting this summer in order to establish a long-term funding plan for the school system before the Board of Education begins contract negotiations in the fall.
One of the main purposes of the meetings is to determine a way to increase employee compensation, Guthrie said.
"There is no one thing that is going to fix this," Howard said. "This is the first time we've ever sat down and tried to find a solution to this."