If school officials get their way, more than $20 million in next year’s budget will be made available for salary or other compensation increases.
Of that figure, $12 million could be put to a cost-of-living increase for Montgomery County Public Schools employees or a change to the salary schedules in employee unions’ contracts. The exact nature of that increase, however, still is being negotiated between the Board of Education and the unions.
The remaining $8.6 million would go to grandfathering longevity increases for employees who have worked in the system a certain period of time and did not receive them in 2011 and 2012, in addition for those slated to receive them in the upcoming fiscal 2013 year. It also would pay for step-based salary increases.
With about 20,820 paid positions in the fiscal 2013 budget approved by the school board Feb. 14, a $20.6 million compensation increase divided evenly would represent a pay increase of about $990 for each position, although not every position is filled by one worker. The compensation increase would be about 1.4 percent of the budget’s total for employee salaries and wages — approximately $1.43 billion in fiscal 2013.
However, the school system’s budget director, Marshall C. Spatz, said different employees would be affected in different ways.
The total of $20.6 million in the fiscal 2013 operating budget for compensation hikes satisfies the goals of board members and Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr that after several years of giving up annual salary and cost-of-living increases in pay, teachers and other workers Montgomery County Public Schools deserve bigger paychecks, or higher compensation in some form, when the new fiscal year starts. Employees have gone without cost-of-living pay hikes for three years, and step increases for two years.
The unions still are negotiating with the school board to decide on compensation in fiscal 2013, which begins in July. Only 21 employees in the entire school system do not have their salaries set, directly or indirectly, by collective bargaining, Spatz said.
The time has come for all county employees, including school workers, to regain some of the salary that they have given up in recent years, said Councilman Craig L. Rice, a member of the County Council’s Education Committee. He cited better relationships between the council, Board of Education, and the superintendent’s office under Starr as creating the right atmosphere for these changes.
Rice said over the long term, given the fiscal difficulties of the county and state in recent years, officials need to be more judicious and gradual in terms of how and when they provide increased compensation to employees than in the years before the recent recession.
“If we make that mistake again, there’s no way that we could go back and say, ‘Oh, we had no idea,’” said Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.
Part of what is contributing to the fiscal environment that could allow salary hikes is that the school system has a $26.4 million surplus compared to what it had budgeted this year for salaries. Spatz said that the more than 500 retirees last year set “all-time record” in the school system, pushing down salary payouts. The school system eliminated 306 positions between fiscal years 2011 and 2012, but created 165 new positions due to higher enrollment, leaving a net decrease of 141 positions.
In addition, he said, the school system was able to hire first-year teachers at lower salaries than it anticipated (below the salary figure listed for them in the teachers union’s contract). The union and school system agreed to this arrangement so that there would be parity between teachers coming into the system and those who had been in the school system previously who have not received step increases for the last two years, said teachers union President Doug Prouty. This agreement also pushed the salary expenses to below expected levels.
In the union contracts, administrators get longevity increases at five and 10 years; support staff get them at 10, 14 and 18 years, while teachers get them at 25 years.
The $12 million for additional compensation also could come in the form of one-time lump sum payments to employees, although Spatz said school officials don’t consider those “bonuses” since they aren’t performance-based.
A year ago, as they did last week, the school system also requested flat per-pupil funding for schools from the county. But that nearly $1.5 billion request for fiscal 2012 was $82 million higher than in fiscal 2011, setting off a months-long squabble over the school system’s budget in general, and school employees’ benefits specifically. The Board of Education is assigned to collectively bargain with school employee unions.
Prouty said that in contrast to last year, when the County Council unsuccessfully tried to force changes to the health benefits structure for school employees, this time county officials haven’t tried to wade into negotiations.
“They weren’t interested in having the same sort of contention that we had last year as part of the budget approval process,” Prouty said. “I’ve had no indication that they’re interested in getting involved in our bargaining process. They understand that the school board is the bargaining agent for MCPS. I haven’t gotten any pushback at all.”