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Harford teachers, board reach accord on raises approximating 8 percent

Harford County Public Schools
Harford County Public Schools(AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun)

The Harford County Board of Education and the local teachers union have reached a tentative contract agreement that will give about two-thirds of those represented by the union pay increases of approximately 8 percent starting in July.

Under the accord between the school board and the Harford County Education Association, teachers will receive a two-step advancement on their pay scale, as well as a 2 percent cost of living adjustment, the school system announced Tuesday.

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Negotiators for the board and the teachers' union had hit an impasse in early April, but they reached an agreement Saturday, according to an HCPS new release issued late Tuesday morning.

The HCEA has about 3,000 members, including teachers, media specialists, guidance counselors, school psychologists, occupational and physical therapists and hearing and speech clinicians.

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Few people showed up to previous Harford County Board of Education work sessions and public input meetings on the school system's proposed budget for fiscal 2017, but county residents were out in force Tuesday evening, as about 80 people attended the third and final public input session at the Epicenter in Edgewood.

About 2,000 HCEA members will be eligible for both steps and the 2 percent COLA, according to Jillian Lader, spokesperson for Harford County Public Schools.

The agreement on the HCEA raises is roughly on par with those negotiated previously by the four unions representing the bulk of the other 2,300 HCPS employees. HCEA was the last of the five to settle.

Each HCEA step is worth 3 percent of a teacher's current salary, so with two steps and a 2 percent COLA, "teachers could realize as much as 8 percent" in salary increase, HCEA President Ryan Burbey acknowledged Tuesday. Burbey added that there are 15 steps on the teacher pay scale.

This school year, teachers and others represented by HCEA received one step increase and a 1.5 percent COLA.

"Recapturing those lost steps has been our priority for a long time," Burbey said, referring to a number of years where the step increases were frozen because of budget tightening. "It's what I ran for president on, and it feels good to be able to realize that."

Burbey ran for his first two-year term as HCEA president in 2012 and was re-elected in 2014. He will be up for re-election this fall.

"We're happy that we were able to reach an agreement, particularly one that recaptures lost steps for teachers," Burbey said.

He noted the 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment helps teachers at the top of the scale get a pay increase, too.

"Once you reach the top of the scale, you're topped out unless we get a COLA," he said.

About 150 to 175 senior employees who are HCEA members and who won't be eligible for step increases will be eligible for a $2,000 longevity increase, according to Lader.

The new three-year contract takes effect July 1 and will be in effect through June 30, 2019, pending ratification by the members of the teachers' union and the school board.

The salary increases also depend on available funding for the school system, which receives the majority of its revenue from the county, state and federal governments.

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If "sufficient funding is not provided by the funding authorities," then a "contingency compensation plan" calls for one salary step and a 1 percent COLA as of July 1, and one step and a .5 percent COLA, for eligible employees, starting Jan. 1, 2017, according to HCPS.

The first two of three scheduled public input sessions on Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan's proposed $459.2 million operating budget for the next school year drew two people to comment Wednesday, one each at the sessions in Bel Air and Aberdeen.

The contingency plan would be in effect, if needed, from July 1 through June 30, 2017 and then subject to renegotiation for the next two years of the contract.

HCPS projects the 2 percent COLA will cost $3.2 million and the two steps will cost $6.5 million, Lader said.

The contact also includes provisions in which the union informs employees that state law allows them to take assault leave if they are physically assaulted and injured on the job, that employees do not have to produce a doctor's not if they are out sick for up to three days, and there is increased lesson planning time for elementary teachers.

Burbey praised the provision that guarantees 70 minutes of planning time for elementary school teachers on half days when students are dismissed early.

"You can't be successful and have great lessons without planning," Burbey said.

All teachers get up to 45 minutes of uninterrupted planning time per day each full workday, but elementary teachers do not currently have a set planning period during early dismissal days.

"[Elementary teachers] have more content to teach than anyone else, and they needed this planning time," Burbey said.

The new contract includes an agency fee, which would be paid by teachers and other employees who are eligible for union membership but are not members and are still covered under benefits negotiated for their bargaining unit.

Non-members would pay that fee to the HCEA. Union members currently pay annual dues of $629, or $37 per paycheck.

Burbey stressed the agency fee will not be implemented until HCEA reaches a membership threshold of 72 percent of all HCPS employees who could be members. The union is currently at about 60 percent, he said.

Teachers' union members must ratify the agreement, which Burbey expects will happen in the next week or two. The school board is scheduled to ratify the agreement in June, pending the union's approval.

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