Three Harford School Employee Groups OK County Executive’s $1,250 Bonus Plan; Teachers Union Hasn’t Yet

baltimoresun.com

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

8:31 AM EST, November 22, 2011

Harford County’s Board of Education and three of five school employee bargaining units reached a memorandum of understanding prior to Monday evening’s board meeting on the disbursement of a $1,250 one-time bonus County Executive David Craig proposed earlier this month for every county government and school employee.

The biggest school employee group that covers teachers and guidance counselors hasn’t signed off on the deal, nor has it given any indication to school officials that it intends to participate.

The one-time distribution of the funds for all county and school employees is dependent on the Harford County Council’s approval, which is expected to be forthcoming at the council’s Dec. 6 legislative session.

In a news release issued Monday afternoon, the school board said it spoke with the five bargaining units about amending their respective contacts to allow for the distribution of the Craig bonus. A closed session on collective bargaining was held by the school board prior to its regular meeting Nov. 14.

According to the news release, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County and Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical and Supervisor Professionals have joined with the school board and signed the memorandum to accept the funds.

The Harford County Education Services Council chose not to sign at this time, but is willing to sign once funding is approved by the county council, according to the news release, which said HCESC represents “more than 900 instructional support, nurses and clerical professionals.”

The Harford County Education Association, representing approximately 3,200 teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, media specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech and hearing clinicians, chose not to respond to the offer of the disbursement, school officials said.

HCEA represents the largest bloc of public employees whose salaries are at least in part funded by Harford County government.

HCEA has been working without a contract since negotiations with the school system broke down this spring after Craig and the county council refused to fund a pay increase the union negotiated with the school board last winter to cover the 2011-12 school year. The contract impasse has been submitted to binding arbitration under a new state collective bargaining law covering school employees that went into effect earlier this year.

Craig announced the bonus offer late last month, saying he would fund it with part of a $30 million surplus from the 2010-11 county budget. County government and school employees have not had cost of living or incremental raises since the 2008-09 budget year. In addition, county employees received what amounted to a 2 percent pay cut in 2009-10 through five furlough days imposed by Craig.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the HCEA members’ bonuses. County government sources say Craig has privately told Superintendent Robert Tomback that he will see that every eligible school employee receives the money, even at the potential risk of touching off a legal battle with the school system over its collective bargaining rules.

School system sources claim that Tomback has been unfairly portrayed by Craig’s people as standing in the way of the payments, when the superintendent has been complying with state laws covering the relationship between the school system and it unions, as well as laws governing the school system’s financial relationship with the county government.

If funding for the bonus is approved by the county council — and the memorandum isn’t further amended — full-time school system employees will receive the money in two equal installments — $625 in December 2011 before the Christmas holidays and the same amount again in June 2012, according to the agreement, which can be viewed at http://www.hcps.org.

Part-time employees will get a pro-rated portion of the bonus based on their current status that will also be dispersed in two equal installments in December 2011 and June 2012. Those employees must have an active status at each time the funds are disbursed to be eligible.

“We are grateful to the County Executive for providing funding for a stipend for our employees,” Tomback said in Monday’s news release. “We are hopeful that we will reach an agreement quickly with the remaining two associations in order to allow all employees to receive the first payment before the holidays.”

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