County, school system differ in approach on raises -- Gazette.Net






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When it comes to pay raises, county government employees could see a $2,000 one-time bump next year. For those who work for the school system, contract negotiations still are under way.

The contract for Montgomery County Public Schools teachers still is on the bargaining table, and despite comments from county officials that teacher pay increases could exceed 5 percent, Montgomery County Education Association President Doug Prouty said if an increase is agreed upon, it likely would be "roughly equivalent to what the county is doing."

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) on March 15 proposed a budget that includes a one-time $2,000 payment to most county employees in lieu of an increase in base salary. Temporary and seasonal employees would not receive an increase, said county spokesman Patrick Lacefield.

Prouty said the teachers union is hoping to achieve a combination of step increases plus something for employees not getting steps. But a final contract still is a few weeks from completion.

In his budget announcement, Leggett called for agencies, including the school system, funded through his plan to pay their employees similar one-time sums, saying the county’s fiscal picture remains too uncertain to add significant dollars to the wage base.

On Monday, Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac said his understanding was that the school system was not willing to follow the county's lead.

"The school system has made it clear that they don't intend to adhere to the county's approach," he said.

Understanding Leggett's call for equitable pay increases was aimed at the school system, Berliner said, "We've been down that road before and have been singularly unsuccessful."

With the contract still under negotiation and details held tightly behind closed doors, Prouty said he did not know how the county was reaching those conclusions.

Superintendent Joshua P. Starr has proposed using about $20 million of his $2.13 billion budget in fiscal 2013 to increase employee salaries. He said that it is a very strong possibility that employee base pay would increase or that employees would receive step increases, but he said information that increases could top 5 percent is “absolutely not true.”

“I don't know where anyone could derive those numbers,” he said. “Any increase or compensation to our employees, all of our employees, will be within [maintenance of effort] budget and I don't know how anyone came up with 5 percent.”

State law requires the county to fund the school system at maintenance of effort, or at least the same rate per pupil as the year before. Leggett has proposed funding maintenance of effort in fiscal 2013, an increase of $50.7 million from the current $2.086 billion budget for the school system.

Such funding should allow the school system to increase teachers pay, Starr said.

“I appreciate that he is fully funding our [maintenance of effort] budget,” he said of Leggett. “I am very glad that we are able to find a way to build into it appropriate compensation for our well-deserving employees. I think they are worth it.”

Prouty said pay increases are overdue, noting that teachers have sacrificed cost-of-living increases for three years and step increases for two years.

"I think that the superintendent has made it clear that ... our employees have sacrificed consistently for three years and are deserving of some light at the end of the tunnel," Prouty said.

Montgomery teachers are the highest paid in Maryland, at an average salary of $76,000 — $3,000 higher than the next highest-paying school system in the state, Calvert County. The lowest salary a Montgomery teacher can earn, according to the teacher union's salary schedule, is $46,400.

As for the $2,000 one-time payment proposed for most county employees, Berliner said that the manner in which the executive reached that figure is not to be taken lightly.

"I think that is going to be an important consideration for my colleagues and I," Berliner said. "I do think that the fact that the county executive and the unions were able to reach agreement on this is very important, particularly since it is not in the base ... it recognizes that our economic future is still too uncertain but it's also clear that people have sacrificed for a number of years and some recognition of their sacrifice and of these difficult economic times is appropriate."

As the county’s ultimate fiscal authority, the council has final say on county employee pay when it approves a final operating budget before the June 1 deadline. It has no authority to approve or deny teacher pay increases, only the authority to set funding for the school system.