The Anne Arundel County Council is sharpening its focus on a bill that will determine how the school system pays for teacher raises after learning that the bill also includes raises for the superintendent and his executive staff, the council chairman said.
"You're going to see certainly a lot of questions asked," said Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican. "One of those questions might be: If we're serious about helping teachers, why are we giving administrators raises as well?
"Could that money maybe be used to give teachers a higher raise?" he said.
School board President Paul Rudolph defended the board's decision to give Superintendent Eric J. Smith and about 30 high-level administrators the 1 percent midyear raise granted teachers and other school employees. "I think the raises were given to those people we felt had earned it," Rudolph said.
The raises for the executive staff, which began to be paid this month, will cost the school system roughly $17,000 this fiscal year. Raises for all school employees - including teachers, principals and maintenance workers - will cost $1.8 million.
"Out of $1.8 million, we're talking about $17,000," said board member Eugene Peterson. "Nobody's trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes here. Let's put it in proper perspective."
Of the increase, 70 percent went toward teacher raises, school officials said. The other 30 percent of the money went to secretaries, principals, maintenance workers, administrators and other employees.
The County Council's approval would allow Smith to transfer some of the school system's $5.9 million budget savings from last fiscal year into salaries instead of making cuts this year to pay the raises. The bill to allow the fund transfer was scheduled to be introduced at Tuesday's meeting. It might be delayed, Middlebrooks said.
Without the bill, school officials would be forced to cut in other areas to pay for the raises.
Though County Executive Janet S. Owens proposed the legislation, she has said she did so only to spark debate. She said she believes the raises, which will increase to $4.3 million next fiscal year, are fiscally unwise.
In drumming up support for the bill, Smith has spoken publicly about the importance of rewarding teachers for doing increasingly demanding work.
In a Nov. 21 letter addressed to the PTA and a residents advisory committee, he wrote, "The first challenge before us is the funding of a 1 percent salary increase for our teachers this school year." Smith also wrote that the raises include "teachers (and others)."
The teachers union has also lobbied strongly for the bill, drawing attention to the teachers' raises.
Smith, whose annual salary is $197,000, said there was no intent to suggest that the raise was for teachers only. "We did everything in our power to communicate that this is for all employees," he said.
Two council members - Vice Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr. and Pamela G. Beidle - said Friday that they were awaiting word from the county Ethics Commission on whether they can vote on the bill. Dillon's wife and Beidle's sister received the raises.