Carroll County teachers are pushing back on a negotiated three-year contract amid frustration with a compressed salary scale, scheduled to go into effect next school year, which will see educators with several years' experience making the same amount as those fresh out of college.

In the current three-year contract, which was ratified by the Carroll County Education Association and Carroll County Public Schools in February 2013, teachers will see a compression of their previous 22-step salary schedule to a 20-step schedule next school year.

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The compressed schedule also includes a bonus and cost of living increase next year, but according to the CCEA President Ted Payne, the salary increase only helps entry-level teachers, not those with several years teaching in the school system. Payne said CCEA has sent a letter to the school system asking for the schedule to be reviewed.

To increase the starting salary for Carroll teachers — which at $40,400 is the lowest in the state — the school system compressed the salary schedule to 20 steps, effective the 2015-16 year.

Under the compressed schedule, steps two and three have been removed, meaning the majority of teachers will slide two steps down the scale; however, they will be making more money.

For example, a teacher who has been with the school system for as many as eight years currently making $41,038 as a step-three would see a $1,962 pay increase, but would also be making the same amount — $43,000 — as a first-year teacher at the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Carroll County teachers have received one step increase in the past five years, something school officials blame on a lack of funding from the county and state.

"Because we have been static for so long, mid-career people are starting to leave," Payne said.

To remedy this, the school system provided teachers with the three-year contract signed in February 2013 that included a modified salary schedule, bonuses and a cost of living increase, said Jonathan O'Neal, assistant superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools.

Under the three-year agreement, teachers received a 2.5 percent one-time bonus on their base salary in fiscal year 2014. In FY2015, teachers received a 3 percent one-time bonus on their base salary. In FY2016, teachers are scheduled to receive a 1 percent one-time bonus on their base salary plus a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment.

Teachers have been losing steps for years

Step compression is not new in Carroll County Public Schools. Traditionally, teachers would receive a step increase every year, and step increases were a reflection of the amount of years a teacher had been in the school system.

"The crux of the issue is that they have compressed so much that a lot people have missed their steps the last few years and spent several years making the same amount," Payne said.

The school system moved from a 24-step scale to a 25-step scale during the 2009-2010 school year. In the 2012-2013 school year, the school system compressed the salary schedule to a 22-step scale.

According to O'Neal, during collective bargaining, the goal of the school system was to give teachers a permanent raise.

"We wanted to create a salary schedule with more value and more wealth on it and address that we have the lowest starting salary in the state," O'Neal said. "We accomplished that."

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During the negotiation of the three-year contract, Payne said he understood there would be a change in the salary schedule for teachers, but admitted he overlooked that it had been added to the contract. He said his push would have been for a salary schedule that was more equitable.

Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said teachers need to understand that salary steps no longer equate to years of experience. He said the new salary schedule will only be in effect for one year and the school system is in the process of negotiating the next agreement with CCEA.

Carroll County Board of Education President Virginia Harrison said the school system is looking into whether it is legal to even reconsider the salary schedule.

Payne said he hopes to find out whether it is legal for both parties to reconsider the salary schedule at the next board of education meeting Wednesday.

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

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