Union leaders reacted with outrage yesterday after labor negotiators for the school board said they wanted to renegotiate last year's hard-won contract to eliminate a promised longevity raise.
The move to renegotiate, two weeks before the contract was to take effect, was "unprecedented," according to leaders of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. The organization represents about 4,000 employees.
"We refused to negotiate," said Thomas J. Paolino, union president. "If they renege on this contract the Board of Education will lose all credibility with employees, the public and the elected officials of the county."
The Association of Educational Leaders (AEL), which represents principals and school administrators, also refused to reopen negotiations -- one of the few times in recent years the unions have acted in concert.
The $408 million budget passed by the County Council includes $3.2 million to cover the longevity raise -- but the sum was shifted from other education accounts including the funds for health care coverage, mileage reimbursement and new hires.
"They left us with $1.7 million missing from the health care fund," said Ronald L. Beckett, associate superintendent for administration and support services. "That means we won't be able to fund the traditional health care plan we've been using.
"There's simply not enough money to do both" the health plan and the longevity raise, he said.
But Mr. Paolino said the board apparently plans to hire more employees, even though the positions were cut by the County Council.
"You can't tell me the board can't find that money. You can't tell me the board doesn't have slush funds," Mr. Paolino said. "How do you explain the fact that they've found money to rent office space in the Heritage complex? Where did they get the money for the superintendent to redecorate her office? Where did they get the $106,000 to pay Mr. Baron?"
Alan I. Baron, a Washington lawyer, investigated problems last year regarding the mishandling of child abuse complaints. Five of the positions the school board plans to fill were recommended by Mr. Baron.
Richard Kovelant, president of the 250-member AEL, said, "We're talking about a potential lawsuit. The contract doesn't say we get the longevity raise only if the board gets 100 percent of everything they ask for." "
Mr. Kovelant also said he was misled about the purpose of the meeting. An invitation sent to the unions said board representatives wanted to discuss the health care and mileage reimbursement plans.
At one point, Mr. Kovelant said, the chief negotiator for the school system said not paying the longevity raise was the best way to resolve the spending problem.
"They requested it, the county authorized them to fund it and now they're trying to renegotiate," he said.
School board President Thomas Twombly has declined to discuss contract matters.
Dee Zepp, president of the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County, which also represents school employees, said, "For the board to attempt to do away with the longevity increase is unacceptable. We're going to meet again Friday. If nothing changes, I will ask my members to vote on a job action."