Teachers union hints at action on pay raise

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County teachers might begin picketing or refusing to take on extra assignments in light of the school board's decision not to seek pay raises for the system's 9,000 educators, the teachers union president said last night shortly after the panel's vote.

"We're obviously extremely disappointed," said Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "Our teachers have already been talking about job actions to show the system and the public that we deserve more."

She said union officials soon would meet with teachers to determine what to do next.

Last night, the school board narrowly passed a $1.18 billion spending plan that includes money to buy computers, expand academic programs and reduce kindergarten classroom sizes for the coming school year.

An initial vote was so close that board President JoAnn C. Murphy requested a roll-call vote, requiring members to vote individually for the record.

In the roll-call vote, six members supported the budget. Seven members were needed for passage. To achieve a majority, board member Joseph J. Pallozzi, who initially abstained, changed his vote to support the budget, adding that he was "very upset that teachers did not get a raise."

With seven members in favor and one abstaining, Ramona Johnson was the lone dissenter. Earnest E. Hines and Meg O'Hare were absent.

Responding to Pallozzi, Murphy said: "The board has great appreciation and sentiment for teachers. It was a difficult decision, but we're trying to be as realistic as we can. We're trying to be as fiscally responsible as we could be."

Teachers and union officials have said that without an across-the-board pay raise, more than 20 percent of the teachers - the county's most senior - will receive no increase at all, and an additional 20 percent, generally newer educators, will take a cut after paying more toward pension and health care expenses.

In her appeal to board members last night, Bost said pay for veteran teachers is not competitive. For example, teachers who have a master's degree and have worked in the county for 15 years are ranked 19th out of the state's 24 school systems, she said.

"I disrespectfully disagree with the use of the word 'comparable' as a choice of words to describe veteran teachers' salaries in Baltimore County as compared to neighboring jurisdictions," she said. "Instead maybe words such as 'less than equal' and 'in the bottom half' would be more appropriate."

School system budget officials have estimated that a 1 percent raise for all teachers would cost about $5.2 million and that a 1 percent increase for all employees would cost about $7.9 million.

The board made few changes in the budget that Superintendent Joe A. Hairston proposed last month. Its only change was to move a requested research position - at a cost of about $150,000 - from the system's research and accountability office to the board's staff to help analyze data and programs.

The budget also includes:

About $26 million for step and longevity increases, higher benefits costs and teacher training.

More than $7 million to expand academic programs.

About $1.3 million to cover costs associated with federally required restructuring at three schools: Woodlawn and Southwest Academy high schools and Lansdowne Middle School.

The board's budget must be forwarded by March 1 to County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who may add or delete funds before sending it to the County Council.

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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