Harford County Public Schools teachers will receive a roughly 5% salary increase next year, thanks to additional funding coming to the school system through the state’s Kirwan Commission.

The president of the local teachers’ union noted the necessity of that raise, as the workload of teachers and other HCPS employees whose duties are related to the classroom is expected to increase in fiscal 2020 due to more than 100 positions being cut to help balance next year’s budget.

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“I’m very grateful that our teachers will be making more money next year, because they’re going to have a whole lot more work to do because of these cuts,” Chrystie Crawford-Smick, president of the Harford County Education Association, said Thursday.

The salary increases were announced Thursday by the administration of County Executive Barry Glassman, who increased the county’s allocation to schools by $10.7 million for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. That increase in county funding helped Harford secure a Kirwan grant, and Glassman signed documents Thursday certifying that the county has included the $10.7 million — part of more than $256 million allocated to HCPS — in its fiscal 2020 budget to support increases in teacher salaries.

Employees represented by the union will receive one salary step increase next year, plus a pay raise funded by the Kirwan grant. The total increase, which includes the step and Kirwan funding, is an average of 5%. The increases range from 4.43% to 5.53%, depending on their positions on the salary step scale, according to the county’s news release.

School psychologists who work 11 months of the year should see increases up to 11.15%, and HCPS employees represented by other unions will have raises ranging from 2.5% to 7.5%, which depends on what bargaining unit they are with plus “other factors.” The county’s allocation includes $650,000 to support mental health programs and school psychologists.

“County Executive Glassman has directed funding to raise teacher salaries in each of the five years of his administration,” according to the release. “By May 2020, all HCPS employees, including teachers, will be caught up on multiple salary step increases they missed prior to the Glassman administration.”

Crawford-Smick said the salary increases should be celebrated, as they help roughly 3,000 — of about 5,000 total HCPS staffers — covered by her bargaining unit get caught up on salaries that have lagged because of a lack of funding in prior years, plus teacher pay will be more competitive with surrounding jurisdictions.

She said the increases are “in the spirit of” the Kirwan Commission — officially called the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, chaired by former University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan — in order to boost salaries of educators in the early phases on their careers and attract more people to the teaching field.

“It’s a step in the right direction, to increase salaries for educators so they not only come to the field but stay there,” she said.

Crawford-Smick does not want people to forget, however, the loss of 108.3 positions and the impact that is expected to have on classroom sizes, teacher workloads and educational opportunities for students.

“Teachers are going to be working harder and our students are going to have less opportunities, and it’s something that cannot continue to happen,” she said.

The school system’s $478.8 million operating budget for next year was approved by the Board of Education June 10. The schools received $5.5 million more than expected in their allocation from the state, plus $8.7 million came through the Kirwan Commission.

Superintendent Sean Bulson, who is approaching his first anniversary leading Harford County Public Schools, initially proposed cutting 202.5 instructional and administrative positions. The adopted operating budget cuts more than 108, including 84.5 related to the classroom and the remainder being administrative and central office staff.

Many members of the community, as well as students, parents, teachers, school administrators and school board members, urged the Harford County Council to fully fund the $15 million increase over this year’s budget, as requested by the Board of Education, all with local dollars.

The council passed the county budget in late May without any increase in education funding other than the $10.7 million proposed by Glassman. The additional state funding helped the school board preserve some positions slated for elimination.

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The teachers’ union has a two-year contract with the school board for fiscal 2020 and 2021, and the one step on the salary scale for next year is covered in that contract. Crawford-Smick said salaries for 2021 will be negotiated starting in November.

Crawford-Smick said there are 14 steps on the salary scale, ranging from $48,722 for a starting teacher to $81,400 for a teacher who holds a master’s degree plus 30 additional credits toward a second degree.

She said employees on the first five steps will receive a $1,200 salary increase and those on the remaining steps will get $1,150 for the year. Those increases, funded with Kirwan money, will be combined with the step increase of about 3%, funded by the county. Crawford-Smick also noted there should be enough Kirwan funding available so any eligible employee can get a “makeup step” at the end of the year in May 2020.

Step increases have been included in contracts in prior years, but the funding has not always been available, especially in the past decade as county and state finances were hit by the Great Recession. That means Harford teachers’ salaries stagnated, but they began catching up in the past four years as the union negotiated agreements guaranteeing annual step increases and COLAs, plus the Glassman administration made funding available for teacher salary increases.

“To be able to attract and retain high-quality teachers, we need to make sure we continue to increase our [salary] scale so we have the best candidates coming to this county,” Crawford-Smick said.

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