During negotiated agreements, the Howard County Public School System and the teachers union created mutual goals, based off state and local initiatives, including to increase starting teacher salaries to $60,000 in five years, according to the teachers union president.

“I think this year’s process was way more collaborative … HCEA and HCPSS agreed on our goals and we agreed on how to forge a path forward,” said Colleen Morris, president of the nearly 6,200-member teachers union.

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The two entities each had negotiating teams that “relied on local and state initiatives to create common goals to guide us through negotiations,” Morris said.

The $60,000 figure came from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, known as the Kirwan Commission, which for more than two years has been identifying policies and programs to help improve the quality of public schools in the state.

To help localities hit the $60,000 mark, the Kirwan Commission gave out grants, with the funds to be used for supplementing beginning teacher’s salaries. Howard schools qualified and applied for the $4.4 million grant after meeting the commission’s three requirements: making significant progress toward elevating beginning teacher salaries, focusing on the first five years of a teacher’s career, and the county providing the money to fully fund the teachers union’s contract, according to Morris.

The school system has not received the funding at this time, according to schools spokesman Brian Bassett.

The commission puts a lot of focus on the first five years of teaching because “that’s when we seem to lose most of our teachers,” Morris said.

In the 2020-21 school year, beginning teachers salaries will be $51,257, according to the school system.

Beginning right away, the contract establishes even step increases across the board, Morris said. Each step will have the same monetary increase, something that had not been previously done.

The teachers union contract is a two-year agreement with the school system, ending on June 30, 2021.

Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a statement, “I am pleased that despite our budget challenges, the Board of Education was able to support compensation increases for all HCPSS employees.”

In June, the school board unanimously adopted a $894.2 million operating budget, a $54.6 million capital budget — both for fiscal 2020 — a $654.6 million capital improvement program for 2021-25, and the 2020-29 $1.12 billion long-range master plan budget.

Seventy-four paraeducator positions across elementary and middle school levels were cut from the budget. However, no employees were laid off; they will be placed in other positions for the 2019-20 academic year.

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“Our educators and staff take care of and nurture our nearly 58,000 children each and every day, supporting the school system’s vision of Learning and Leading with Equity,” Martirano said. “It is important that we continue to stay competitive in order to retain and attract highly qualified educators to help provide access, opportunities and supports that help our students reach their full potential in an equitable way.”

The fiscal 2020 schools operating budget fulfilled all negotiated agreements with the six bargaining units, including the teachers union; the Howard County Administrators Association; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Educational Support Professionals; Home and Hospital Teachers Association; and the Food Service Association.

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