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Howard schools, 3 employee unions reach tentative agreement on salary


The Howard County school board and unions representing the county's school workers have reached tentative salary agreements for next year that would add a total of $6.3 million to the $228.2 million budget.

The agreements -- which still require approval by members of the three unions -- reflect the county's tight fiscal circumstances. School workers would receive smaller pay increases next year than they did this year, with the school system's total tab for the raises $2 million less than for this year's raises.

Nevertheless, the added costs are almost sure to require the school board to make substantial cuts in other areas -- perhaps as much as $6 million worth of cuts that could intrude on educational programs.

With the tentative agreements, the board's proposed budget for 1995-1996 would require the county to spend $12.4 million more than it did this year if it were to provide full funding. The board had sought an increase of $6.8 million in its budget proposal before pay raises were tentatively agreed.

But County Executive Charles I. Ecker repeatedly has said he will give the schools only an additional $6 million to $10 million.

"That's still what they're going to get. I'll recommend to the County Council that it let the [school] board decide for itself what needs to be cut to meet its budget," Mr. Ecker said Friday.

Board chairwoman Susan Cook acknowledged that cuts will need to be made, but said the board still hopes that the county will fund as much of the budget as possible.

"The school board always stands by its agreements, and we will continue to do so. We'll just have to find ways to fund it from elsewhere in the budget," Ms. Cook said. "We will want to avoid cutting things that will have a direct impact on the classroom."

The school board has not yet developed a list of areas to be cut, but will wait to see how much the budget gets trimmed by Mr. Ecker and the council, Ms. Cook said.

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said he expects to have his staff draw up a list of possible cuts next month after Mr. Ecker submits a budget to the council.

"I don't like to use cuts as a scare tactic, but I also feel obligated to let people know what would be cut," Dr. Hickey said. "The council has to know what the implications are of cutting a certain amount of money."

Although the agreements reached last week after nearly three months of negotiations vary from union to union, they would give all school workers less of a salary increase next school year than they received this school year.

This year, teachers, support personnel, custodians and other maintenance workers received a 3 percent cost-of-living salary increase plus a longevity raise.

For next year, instead of any cost-of-living increase, the salary scale for the 2,400 teachers would be reduced from 28 years to 25 years, meaning that teachers with 25 years or more of service would be at the maximum salary level.

All teachers, no matter how long they have taught, would benefit from this condensed salary scale -- because of increased step raises and other factors -- and from longevity raises.

A teacher with a master's degree and 25 years or more of service in the school system would receive the maximum salary of $55,620 next year, said Marius Ambrose, chief negotiator for the Howard County Education Association.

"Both sides are not ecstatic about this deal, but there's not going to be a war over it," Mr. Ambrose said.

The 300 maintenance, custodial and building and grounds workers would receive a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and a one-time payment of 1.65 percent of their annual pay midway through the school year. They would not, however, receive any longevity raises.

The 900 secretaries and other support workers would receive longevity raises as well as 0.55 percent cost-of-living raises next year.

Robert Lazarewicz, the school system's chief negotiator, said the agreements mean that it would cost 4 percent more than last year to cover the employees' salary packages.

"This was the maximum we could afford. I think it's a very fair settlement," Mr. Lazarewicz said.

The three unions are scheduled to vote on the agreements this month. Assuming all three proposals are ratified, the school board then will need to give its final approval, likely next month, Mr. Lazarewicz said.

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