A few days after the Howard County school system floated laying off educators by increasing class sizes during a work session, the Board of Education and the county teachers’ union tentatively agreed to a renegotiated contract that does not result in teacher layoffs.
According to an email sent by the Howard County Education Association to its members, the tentative agreement does, however, remove the pay raises for the 2020-21 academic year that were agreed upon by the two parties in June 2019, meaning teachers will receive only their step increases next year and not an additional raise.
“We are proud of the fact that we were able to protect jobs for our educators, but we know this will cause hardships because over 60% of educators have second and third jobs that have been eliminated due to the pandemic,” union President Colleen Morris wrote in a statement Friday. “... The stakes are high, and we will continue to fight for the resources we need to meet the diverse and increasing needs of our students and staff.”
The average pay raise for school system educators in the contract was 4% — 3% from the county and 1% from state funding related to the Kirwan Commission. Taking away the pay raises does not affect the step increases that were agreed to for the 2019-20 school year. If approved, teachers will still receive their step increases identified in the 2019-20 chart.
The agreement is subject to approval by union members, who have until 3 p.m. Thursday to vote. The school board is expected to vote to adopt the fiscal 2021 budget next week.
“It should be clear to all elected officials in Howard County that HCPSS will continue to be forced to sacrifice priorities until we are sufficiently funded,” union representatives wrote in an email to members Friday. “As enrollment continues to rise and student needs increase, employees need to be a priority in the HCPSS budget. We cannot do our best for students while suffering position losses, threats to our contract and dwindling resources.”
In the original contract, the pay raises for all school system employees, including administrators, teachers, special educators and their benefits, were expected to total $24.9 million in the fiscal 2021 operating budget. The largest part of the school system’s operating budget, according to school system Chief Administrative Officer Jahantab Siddiqui, is money for staff salaries and benefits at 87% of the total budget.
The email from the union, which represents 7,400 educators, said the agreement accounts for “half the cost” of the original $24.9 million increase. Multiple school board members declined to comment Friday.
The agreement also includes one fewer work day for all teachers and non-12-month staff this year, as well as one additional annual leave day for 12-month employees starting next year.
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The fight between the two parties began May 28 — a day after the board received $30.9 million less from the County Council than it requested. In February, the board approved its $947.8 million budget for the 2021 fiscal year, while County Executive Calvin Ball devised — and the County Council passed and sent back to the school board without changing — a $910.9 million budget with $620.3 million from the county and the rest from the state and federal government.
Overall, the budget is $9.6 million more than the fiscal 2020 operating budget.
The difference between the two budgets is $30.9 million after accounting for the $6 million contribution from the county toward the school system’s health fund deficit that has been pushed back amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of going with the county executive’s line-item budget, which featured $13.5 million less than requested for special education, the school board is attempting to find savings to fill in the $30.9 million difference.
After the school board received the budget May 27, it notified the teachers’ union that it wanted to further negotiate the 2020-21 contract to save money by removing the pay raises. Without a solution by Tuesday’s budget work sessions, school system officials presented data to the board about increasing class sizes and the teacher layoffs and savings thereof.
The data showed an increase of one student per classroom would have caused layoffs of 121 educators and save $7.2 million, while a two-student increase would double the impact at 242 educators and $14.6 million. The discussion of augmenting class sizes came four months after the board approved increasing them by one student, which saves $7.2 million but will not result in layoffs by shifting 104 educators to other positions that will be open mostly due to retirements.
Budget work sessions and a meeting to adopt the budget are expected to be held next week, but the school system has yet to release when they will be.