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Howard schools budget doesn't have room for pay raises, finance director says

Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose
Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose (Jen Rynda, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Howard County's public school system has no room in its budget next year to fund pay raises for teachers, according to the system's financial director.

HCPSS included $21.4 million for salary increases in its budget proposal for fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30. After contract negotiations stretched into August last year, school officials and the teachers' union agreed on a compromise that added another $11 million to the deal.

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In fiscal year 2016, "there's no more money left in the budget" for another pay hike, school system Budget and Finance Director Beverly Davis told the County Council at a budget work session last week. "We don't think it's responsible to add more money than we have."

The additional $11 million from last year's agreement is actually being funded in the fiscal year 2016 budget, Davis said. Teachers will receive that payment, which amounts to a half-step increase, in a lump sum at midnight on June 30. Though the money comes from the fiscal year 2016 budget, it is part of the one-year agreement between the school system and teachers' union for fiscal year 2015.

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Meanwhile, the school system and the Howard County Education Association, the union that represents about 5,500 of the county's educators, are deadlocked in negotiations over next year's contract, which, in addition to salary, also delineates benefits and working conditions.

The Public School Labor Relations Board formally declared an impasse between the two groups on May 12. HCEA and HCPSS will now enter a mediation process, which could potentially end in arbitration later this summer.

Both groups have until May 22 to submit their last and best offers.

Teachers' union leaders are hoping for a full step increase and 2 percent cost of living increase this year, as well as a day off for teachers to write individualized education plans and a reduction in work time for part-time teachers.

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School system spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove declined to comment on the negotiations.

"We are following the impasse procedures as established by state law. Neither party is allowed to discuss specifics while the process is ongoing," she wrote in an email.

Last year's negotiations wrapped up on Aug. 1, a few weeks before the 2014-2015 school year began. In that agreement, teachers obtained a cost-of-living increase, of 3 percent, for the first time in five years, as well as a step increase for the fifth year in a row.

The county's average teacher salary this school year is $71,439 – the third highest in the state, after Montgomery and Calvert counties.

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