With local revenues down sharply as a result of the regional economic slowdown, public employees across the state are being asked to forgo or defer pay increases already negotiated in union contracts. Among those expected to take the hardest hits are Baltimore city teachers, who are watching with dismay as long-anticipated efforts to achieve parity with other school districts fall victim to the budget ax.
City teachers are now in the middle of their current contract, which provided for increases of 8 percent a year for the first two years and left pay levels for the final year to be negotiated on the understanding that both sides accepted the goal of bringing city salaries in line with suburban school districts. That relatively modest goal now seems beyond reach once again.
The difference is substantial: With an average salary of $34,518, Baltimore teachers earn less than their counterparts in all but one of the eight jurisdictions in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan region. During the 1989-90 school year, for example, the average salary in Carroll County schools was $34,926; in Howard, $36,558; in Anne Arundel, $36,775; in Prince George's, $37,100; in Baltimore County, $37,234; and in Montgomery County, $43,336. Only Harford County, with an average of $33,358, paid teachers less than the city.
The gap in teacher pay makes it harder for Baltimore to attract promising young teachers and to hold on to older, more experienced educators. City schools already suffer from this lack of competitiveness, which is one reason the teachers' union made parity a priority this year. Now it appears that even if salaries are frozen throughout the region, city teachers will still end up near the bottom of the heap. Given the city's steadily worsening financial condition, the overall result could be to effectively lock in the present pay gap for years to come.