Upon completing her tenure as a Hampstead Elementary School teacher, Teresa McCulloh has taken the reins of the Carroll County Education Association, a union that represents teachers, guidance counselors and registered nurses in the county.
McCulloh, a Westminster resident, took over as president of the CCEA July 1, replacing Ted Payne, who lead the organization for six years as president.
"One of the drawbacks in deciding to run was leaving the classroom, but I felt I could reach more students through working with my members," said McCulloh, a self-described "people person" who taught at Hampstead Elementary for 30 years.
"I just enjoy organizing different associations to move them forward so they can become stronger and make an impact in our community," said McCulloh, who has served on the executive board of the North Carroll Recreation Council and in leadership roles for the Winters Mill Athletic Boosters.
Longtime colleagues say McCulloh's familiarity with Carroll County is beneficial in her leading role with the organization, a local affiliate of the Maryland State Education Association.
"She's got a lot of energy and knowledge — she's born and raised in this county," said Regina Michel, a Hampstead Elementary teacher who has known McCulloh for 25 years.
McCulloh spent her first week on the job at the National Education Association convention in Orlando. Her second week was spent attending a Board of Education meeting and a joint meeting between the school board and county commissioners, listening to both boards discuss the increased number of teacher resignations this year.
"We're losing experienced teachers and in turn that has an impact on the classroom," McCulloh said.
McCulloh said her goals as president include improving teacher salaries and reducing their workload.
"I'm really concerned with our special education teachers and their workload and their paperwork — that really needs to be examined," she said.
She is also troubled by the amount of time allocated toward testing in schools.
"It's simple, we want to spend our day teaching and not testing," McCulloh. "We just want to focus on what's best for our students to prepare them for the future."
McCulloh said another priority will be to build CCEA membership. The organization currently has about 1,383 members, which includes nearly 65 percent of the teachers who work for CCPS, she said.
Kelly McDonough, a teacher at Ebb Valley Elementary School and vice president of the organization, said she believes McCulloh has the personality required to move the organization forward.
"She's the most positive person, which I really like," said McDonough, who has known McCulloh for 18 years. "She's a strong person — she's not someone you're going to walk on — and I think we want someone who is strong but is positive."
Susan Adami, who retired this year after teaching in Carroll public schools for 39 years, concurred that McCulloh possesses qualities needed to advocate for CCEA members.
"She knows how to get people to work together, and she has a great concern for the students in her classroom," Adami said. "If she can get the commissioners and the Board [of Education] on board, I have great hope [for the school system] — but only time will tell."
McDonough called McCulloh a "cheerleader," explaining that teachers need someone who is positive to boost morale.
"The teachers in this county feel that they can't affect change; they feel worn down and beaten down," McDonough said, referencing stagnant salaries and compressed salary schedules.
Traditionally, teachers have received a step increase with each year of experience. Carroll, however, is now the only school system in Maryland where teachers are five steps behind in salary placement.
The teacher salary schedule was compressed from 22 steps to 20 in the 2015-2016 school year, which means teachers in most instances, will move two steps down from where they previously were on the schedule. As part of a three-year negotiated contract, teachers received a 2.5 percent one-time bonus on their base salary in fiscal year 2014. In FY 2015, teachers received a one-time bonus on their base salary, and in FY 2016 teachers will receive a 1 percent one-time bonus in addition to a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment.
In the 2014-2015 school year, annual starting salaries for teachers with a bachelor's degree in Carroll were the lowest in the state at $40,400. The change provides a boost in pay for first year teachers in the 2015-2016 school year from $40,400 to $43,000, which means Carroll will no longer pay the lowest starting salary in the state.
However, steps on the school system's salary schedule no longer equate to experience, said Jonathan O'Neal, assistant superintendent of administration for CCPS. According to FY 2016 comparative teacher salary data compiled by CCPS, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and five years of experience would still be on step 1, and would make the same annual salary as a first year teacher at $43,000.
McCulloh said teacher salaries aren't commensurate with the amount of wealth in the county. The median household income in Carroll County was $82,073 in 2013, ranked seventh out of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions, according to Maryland Department of Planning data.
McCulloh said the Board of Education and CCEA share, for the most part, parallel interests.
The CCEA negotiates a collective bargaining agreement for members this fall. Although McCulloh, an ex-officio member, will not be involved in negotiating the contract, she will sign off on the contract once it is finalized.
She said her goals will be to obtain step adjustments and salary increases across the board.
"We all want the teacher working conditions to be at their possible best; we both want qualified teachers in the classrooms delivering effective lessons; we both want teachers to be compensated — but it's the funding and that's where the Board of Education and commissioners need to find proper funding for us," McCulloh said. "The commissioners are really going to have to look hard at other options for increasing revenue."