Members of Carroll County's teachers union have voted overwhelmingly to accept the school board's contract offer of the equivalent of a 4 percent raise over the next two years, despite lingering frustrations and resentment over one of the longest and most contentious bargaining seasons in years.
About 800 teachers -- or 80 percent of those who took part in the union's ratification vote -- cast ballots to approve the contract, union officials said yesterday. More than 1,000 of the 1,450 members of the Carroll County Education Association -- about 70 percent -- returned their ballots by Monday's deadline. Union officials finished counting them Monday night, association representative Hal Fox said.
President Cindy Wheeler said that more of her members participated in this ratification vote than in balloting for the first tentative agreement reached -- but not approved by the school board -- this spring. Then, about 60 percent of union members voted, with 89 percent of them in favor of the proposal.
Wheeler attributed the greater participation this time to union leaders' push for ratification as well as teachers' discontent with the school board's decision to back away from the annual 3 percent raises approved in the first agreement.
"Usually, our people are 'Oh, ho hum, it's our contract. It will pass,'" Wheeler said. "I think this time, they wanted to make a definite statement. They realized the Board of Education doesn't automatically honor the negotiated agreement."
Talks stalled this summer after board members cut their proposed spending plan to align it with county budget allocations. They voted to eliminate all but $2.7 million of the $6.6 million that had been set aside for employee raises and instead poured about $2.6 million into new staff and programs as part of the school system's $206.9 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick declared an impasse, and last month a mediator helped hammer out the tentative agreement that the teachers ratified. School board members are expected to sign the contract today, finally bringing to a close this year's negotiations.
"We were very happy to hear they ratified and the signing is on," said Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent for administration and one of the board's chief negotiators. "There is relief that this contentious process is finally over after working in earnest from February on. That's the longest in my 10 years in contract negotiations here that it's ever gone."
Guthrie said the 20 percent of voting teachers who rejected the contract proposal reflect frustration that school officials share.
"Teachers are responding with emotion to the lack of funding [for] the school system, from both the local and state levels," he said. "We're getting ready to start the budget process again for next year and, looking at the expected revenue, we're going to be in the same shape.
"There are going to be things we just can't do," he added. "To me, that 20 percent that didn't vote for the contract is frustration and a sign that teachers want more funding for education in Carroll County."