Pay raises sought for Balto. County school employees

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County schools employees would receive pay raises across the board, after getting no cost-of-living increase this year, under the 2009-2010 proposed operating budget that Superintendent Joe A. Hairston presented to the school board last night.

The $1.32 billion spending plan includes nearly $23.5 million for pay raises, as well as $11.6 million for step increases.

The proposal represents an increase of nearly 6 percent, or about $74 million, over the current budget, according to school system documents.

Hairston's presentation comes as counties and school systems around the region and beyond are contending with the dire economic picture on the state and national level. Last week, Howard County's superintendent proposed a budget with a less than 1 percent increase over the previous year.

"The rapidly changing economic climate ... has negatively impacted our county, our state, our nation and the world," Hairston said, adding that the "revenue picture" remains uncertain. "Even in these difficult economic times, Baltimore County public schools is a strong school system that will remain focused on providing a stable, high-quality school system that you depend on."

While no new programs appear in the proposed budget, it calls for nearly 100 new positions - including 42 teaching positions and six additional instructors for English language learners to account for enrollment growth - and cites the "fiscal constraint exercised" in the current year as having allowed the district "to maintain all of the student programs and services offered in previous years."

The inclusion of the pay increases for teachers is a significant step in a nearly yearlong conflict. Last year, school and county officials had said budget constraints kept them from providing more than step increases in the current operating plan.

About 200 teachers protested in response, showing up in force at a public hearing and launching a work-to-rule job action. They also demonstrated recently, after the school board rejected a mediation panel recommendation to give teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living increase at the end of the school year.

Last year, Hairston said, he had committed to putting the district in the best position to pursue salary increases in the next budget cycle.

"I have held true to this promise," he said last night.

The plan did not specify the percentage pay increase employees would receive, as negotiations with the labor unions are under way, Hairston and school officials said.

The district is also redirecting funds from existing programs to prepare for a projected slight increase in enrollment, school officials said. The budget proposes shifting about $250,000 for teachers for restructured schools, and more than $175,000 for additional instructors and materials for Advancement Via Individual Determination, a national college-prep program. Money would also be redirected for teaching positions in career and technology education and the Chinese language program.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Ridge Ruxton School in Towson. A board work session on the budget is set for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 27. The board is expected to adopt a spending plan Feb. 10.

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