… Tentative contract calls for cost of living increase and step increment adjustments …
Harford County’s public school teachers will receive a 3 percent cost of living raise and other enhancements to their pay under a tentative contract announced between the school system and the teachers union Friday afternoon.
The one-year pact between the school system and the Harford County Education Association, or HCEA, covers the 2011-12 school year. HCEA represents 3,200 employees, the majority of whom are teachers. The bargaining unit also includes teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, media specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech and hearing clinicians. The tentative contract must still be ratified by the union membership and the school board.
The raises would be the first for Harford’s teachers since the 2008-9 school year.
HCEA President Randy Cerveny said Saturday the union agreed to a 3 percent cost of living adjustment. Eligible employees will also receive the step increment adjustment they should have received at the start of the 2010-11 school year and the additional step adjustment they would normally be eligible for in 2011-12, he said.
Step adjustments are tied to length of service and a teacher’s attainment of higher education and other career development steps. According to school system budget information, there are 15 steps for certificated teachers in which salary differentials range between $1,300 and $2,800, depending on service and educational attainment. Teachers whose seniority no longer qualifies them for step adjustments receive $2,000 longevity raises at 19, 24, 29 and 34 years of service.
Cerveny said the tentative contract also resolves a number of non-salary matters the union has been bargaining over for several years and contains a minor health coverage adjustment that he believes should help younger teachers in particular.
The HCEA president said the contract will help correct a number of “inequities” Harford teachers have suffered the past three years.
For example, he said, as neighboring Harford and Cecil counties raised their teachers’ salaries during the years Harford’s teachers’ salaries were frozen, Harford has not only faced the loss of highly experienced and qualified teachers, but many other teachers have cut back on the amount of voluntary time they can give their students after normal class hours. They’ve done so not out of spite, he said, but because many have had to take part-time jobs to make ends meet.
“We went from the top third in the state four years ago to the bottom third,” he noted.
The teacher salary increase package will cost about $13 million. Superintendent Robert Tomback’s proposed operating budget that will cover the 2011-12 school year is $449 million, of which $278.9 million is salary and wages, a $17.2 million increase. Tomback said he added enough money to the next budget to fund raises for all 5,000 school system employees, pending the outcome of negotiations with the five unions that represent the bulk of them.
Cerveny said his union was in no pressure to settle quickly, though he added that he thinks the entire budget process should go smoother as a result. The school system previously reached a tentative one-year agreement with the Harford County Education Services Council, or HCESC, which represents more than 900 instructional support, nurses and clerical professionals, on Dec. 21. Details of that agreement have not been made public.
No matter what the school system and the unions agree to in their contracts, funding for any raises is still contingent on how much additional money the county government makes available to the school system.
Cerveny admitted he isn’t optimistic that the county will provide all of the $238.3 million Tomback is requesting, a $24 million increase. Still, he hopes the county executive and county council realize the Harford school system has been losing competitive ground because of teacher pay inequity and that students are the ones who suffer most as a result.