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Harford school board reaches pay raise agreements with two employee unions

The Board of Education of Harford County reached agreements with two unions to increase compensation, Superintendent Sean Bulson announced at a news conference Tuesday.

The announcement comes as much of the state deals with school bus driver shortages as the pandemic continues, prompting many counties to offer incentives to retain drivers and to recruit new employees.

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“In 2019, when the pandemic began, Harford County Public School staff rose to the occasion and, in very difficult circumstances, did everything they could to assure students, staff and families received the support they needed,” Bulson said, “Now we’re facing a new challenge.”

The agreement with American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) involves a one-time 8% pay raise for all bus drivers, bus attendants, and food and nutrition professionals beginning next month.

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A one-time retention payment of $2,000 also will be granted to all personnel within these three categories. It will apply to both school system and bus contractor employees, and act as a signing bonus for new personnel; the $2.3 million in funds will be allocated from the county government’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act grant.

The agreement with the Harford County Education Association Education Support Professionals (HCEA-ESP) involves accelerating salary increases that were previously negotiated. The school board and HCEA-ESP had earlier agreed upon increasing the salaries of paraprofessionals, inclusion helpers, and specified technicians by 7% in both July 2022 and July 2023. Under the new agreement, an 8% increase will take effect next month, and a 6% increase will take effect July 1, 2022.

“We definitely feel that it’s well deserved for those employees — these folks who make in many cases poverty wages— so it really is an opportunity for us to bring them up and get them salaries closer to the salaries that they deserve,” Chrystie Crawford-Smick, the president of the Harford County Education Association, said at the news conference.

County Executive Barry Glassman (center) and members of the education community gather for a press conference at William Paca/Old Post Elementary School in Abingdon, where a memorandum of understanding with the Harford County Education Association was signed..
County Executive Barry Glassman (center) and members of the education community gather for a press conference at William Paca/Old Post Elementary School in Abingdon, where a memorandum of understanding with the Harford County Education Association was signed.. (Callan Tansil-Suddath)

The agreements were confirmed and memorandums of understanding were finalized during the school board’s Monday meeting.

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Earlier this month, officials with the Baltimore County school system announced incentives including higher wages and bonuses for drivers, in addition to more flexible time off options and a $2 hourly shift differential for drivers who work additional routes the rest of the 2021-2022 school year.

Darryl Williams, Baltimore County’s superintendent, said drivers would be offered $50 monthly rewards for on-time attendance, $250 sign-on bonuses, $250 employee referral incentives and $1,000 retention bonuses. The county is also offering to waive fees involved with onboarding for the job including those for background

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball also announced $2 million of the funds the county receives from the American Rescue Plan will be designated to fund bonuses for existing bus drivers and attendants, as well as signing bonuses for new hires.

Last week, The Carroll County Board of Education announced it, too, had approved financial incentives for the retention and hiring of school bus drivers. Drivers will be given $1,000 and bus attendants $500.

Sharon Horton Moxley, a special needs school bus attendant for Harford County Public Schools, and the president of AFSCME Local 2471, told The Aegis she is “delighted” about the decision.

“They have a lot of wonderful people that work here; I am so happy that my board member, the other people in the county, and the union have been able to get together and get this well-deserved raise,” Moxley said.

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