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First school union OKs two-year deal worth 3% annually


The first of five groups representing county school employees has settled for the equivalent of a 3 percent pay increase in each of the next two years and a slight reduction in the retirement payout for unused sick leave -- an agreement that probably will set the benchmark for the school system's negotiations.

Although the other four employee unions continue to bargain, the school board historically has standardized salary agreements it makes with all employee groups, although the pay increases may be distributed differently, negotiators said.

"We're talking about adjusting [the salary schedule to] increase pay for beginning teachers and recognize the contributions of veteran teachers by adding an extra step near the top," said Harold Fox, chief negotiator for the teachers' union, Carroll County Education Association.

Teachers also are trying to increase the amount of planning time authorized for elementary teachers to about four hours a week, or 245 minutes. The current contract guarantees only 200 minutes a week and teachers say even 245 minutes isn't enough.

"We're saying just put the numbers where the reality lies," Mr. Fox said. The Carroll County Schools Administrators and Supervisors, a group that includes principals, pupil personnel workers and psychologists, is the only one to have completed negotiations, after about four sessions.

The agreement has been ratified by the members, and will go before the Board of Education for formal approval March 8.

"We thought it was reasonable," said chief negotiator Larry Houser, who is supervisor of math for Carroll schools. "We would have liked to have a larger base salary, to make up for the years we didn't get a cost-of-living increase."

Still talking are the teachers; the Carroll Association of School Employees; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the Carroll County Schools Food Service Association.

Negotiators for the unions said salary was not a big issue, but they are concerned with capping insurance costs to employees, especially those with the smallest salaries, such as instructional assistants and cafeteria workers.

The administrators agreed to a two-year contract. The first year would include a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees, and an extra increase in the salary schedule for employees with 25 years of experience. The second year would provide a 3 percent increase for all.

Mr. Houser said the salary package would cost the school board no more than if it had granted a 3 percent raise across the board both years. But the longevity raise for 25-year employees would benefit more of the members of his group, he said.

The unused sick-leave payout became an issue when a performance audit commissioned by the school board and county pointed out that Carroll County schools might be too generous in paying retiring employees 50 percent of their unused sick days. Auditors recommended 40 percent.

Mr. Houser said his group felt that was fair, but not to longtime employees who have been expecting a 50 percent payout. The compromise was to include all current employees in the group that will get the 50 percent payout, but to have a 40 percent payout for anyone hired after July 1.

The payout has other stipulations, such as that teachers or administrators work 20 years in the system to qualify and that it be paid only upon retirement as defined by state law, or upon death.

Nonprofessional employees, suchas custodians or teaching assistants, can qualify for that retirement payout after five years. Those employees typically don't stay in the system as long as teachers, and many come into the jobs as second careers later in life, school officials said.

Cafeteria workers have a unique concern over a technicality in the sick-leave payout, said Wilma Welling, president of the Carroll County Schools Food Service Association. To earn the unused sick time, an employee has to retire. But state definition of retirement applies only to workers who put in more than four hours a day, she said.

The cafeteria workers are asking the board to allow their part-time workers to earn the sick-leave payout even if they don't meet the state definition for retirement.

Ms. Welling said it is the nature of school cafeteria work to rely on workers who put in only a few hours a day. She said about one-third of the 160 cafeteria employees work four hours a day or less.

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