A state appeals court has ruled that Baltimore teachers are not entitled to 1992-1993 raises of up to 6 percent because the city Board of Estimates never formally approved them.
The Court of Special Appeals decision is expected to save the city $16 million in back wages, but is a major setback for the Baltimore Teachers Union.
"We see it as another example of the system riding on the backs of the teachers," said Irene B. Dandridge, president of the BTU.
She said the union may appeal Wednesday's opinion to the Court of Appeals.
City officials agreed in 1991 to strive for a "goal" of raising city teachers' pay to levels comparable with those of surrounding counties by increasing salaries by 1 percent to 6 percent, if the money was available.
"Both parties agree that the parity increase will only be received provided revenues can be identified," the agreement said.
City teachers are paid about $5,000 less than teachers in surrounding counties, according to the opinion.
But a 1991 recession slashed state funding to Baltimore by $37.5 million and forced the city to cut salaries for all workers and implement cost-cutting measures that killed any chance for the raises.
"The city was in terrible financial straits at the time," said Neal M. Janey, city solicitor.
The union's appeal to Baltimore Circuit Court was dismissed last April by Judge Thomas Ward.
Writing for the three-judge appeals panel, Judge Arrie W. Davis said Baltimore's charter requires formal approval by the city Board of Estimates -- which comes only after a review of the annual budget -- for any salary increases above established pay scales.
"The board of estimates never formally gave its 'approval' as was required," Judge Davis wrote in a 45-page opinion.
Judge Davis acknowledged that the ruling represents "yet another setback for the most noble of professions."
Joel A. Smith, the BTU lawyer, said the decision renders "meaningless" any multiyear contracts negotiated by the city because the Board of Estimates approves pay rates only on a one-year basis.
"This denies the parties the opportunity to accommodate one another in contract negotiations, over any extended period of time," he said.