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Howard County school board, teachers union reach tentative 2-year agreement

After three months of negotiations, the Howard County school board and educators union have come to a tentative agreement that would determine teacher salaries for the next two years.

"That's the thing that we really wanted to lock in for our members," said Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Educators Association, which represents almost 5,000 teachers, pupil personnel workers, psychologists and counselors in the county schools. "Say somebody's budgeting for that house or car. Now they know what their pay is for the next year, and what their increases are."

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If ratified by members of the Board of Education and the Educators Association, the agreement would give educators a salary step increase for both the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years.

With the 0.5 percent cost of living increase proposed in the agreement, starting salary for a teacher would range from $47,588 to $59,859, depending on educational attainment.

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Educators in the union will vote on the agreement between March 9 and 22, Lemle said.

In an announcement about the deal Wednesday, Board of Education Chairwoman Christine O'Connor said that the board's priority is meeting the needs of all students and employees.

"It is the reason we increased the budget to meet the needs of our growing student population, and to support our school system as a whole," she said.

On Feb. 23, the board approved an $856.4 million operating budget request for the 2016-2017 school year, including $26.8 million for employee salary increases, according to a statement from the school system.

The budget, which must be approved by the county executive and county council before it is adopted, represents an $80.1 million increase over the current operating budget.

While neither Kittleman nor the council has indicated whether they would approve the school budget, Council Chairman Calvin Ball said, "As an educator, mediator, council member and, most importantly, father of two children in our schools, I commend all parties on an agreement that supports our valued educators."

In addition to implementing salary increases for the next two years, the agreement between the association and the school board would compress the pay scale for teachers so that they reach their highest level of pay after 25 years of teaching, instead of 29 years.

"There are significant improvements for lifetime earnings," Lemle said. "Nobody gets rich teaching and they certainly don't see huge one to two-year increases, so we worked to improve the scale throughout a whole career."

The compressed scale would potentially improve teachers' pensions, which are based on their highest, three-year consecutive pay. Teachers in Maryland are eligible for retirement after 30 years of service, according to state law.

"On our new scale, you hit the highest pay at 25 years of service," Lemle said. "After 28, you've worked at it for three years, so when you can become eligible for retirement, it will improve your pension calculations."

Lemle said that the agreement makes the county more competitive with neighboring school systems, in terms of attracting the best educators.

Just as important, he said, is that educators in Howard County deserve the terms of the agreement.

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"This isn't a gift from their employer," he said. "This is well-earned by people who really deserve the improvement."

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