Employee salaries top issue as County Council mulls school budget -- Gazette.Net


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Pending this week’s anticipated budget resolution by state legislators in Annapolis, there could be a few changes to the school system’s budget before the Prince George’s County Council adopts the countywide budget next week.

The school system has proposed setting aside $18 million for negotiating employee bonuses, but Councilman Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro said after the council’s budget work session Monday that he would like to see that figure doubled.

“We are continuing to lose teachers and principals to other jurisdictions that are able to lure them away,” Franklin said.

A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will make $44,800 in Prince George’s, compared to $46,410 in Montgomery County Public Schools or $51,539 in District of Columbia Public Schools, according to information from each school system’s website. In Virginia, starting teachers in Fairfax County Public Schools make $44,440.

In February, the county school board approved a $1.6 billion budget, which was then sent to the County Council for review and approval. Council members cannot rewrite the school system’s budget, but can ask the system to shift funds between 15 categories of expenditures, such as administration, student transportation services and instructional salaries.

Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel said compensating employees fairly — and avoiding a “brain drain” of teachers and administrators leaving for other counties — is a big concern.

School system employees have not seen cost-of-living or other salary increases in the past three years, schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. told the County Council on Monday.

Lehman said she favors one-time bonuses of $1,000 to $2,000 for schools employees over Hite’s suggestion of a one-time bonus of 1 or 2 percent of an employee’s salary.

“It’s on everybody’s mind... We are struggling to figure out how we compensate these people so they don’t leave,” Lehman said.

Kenneth Haines — president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, the local teachers union representing more than 9,000 members — said three years of wage freezes add up to more than $50 million owed to school system employees so $18 million is just a start.

“It’s better than what we’ve had for the last three years,” he said. “It won’t make my members whole, but it’s what’s there.”

Franklin also suggested council members might look into the amount budgeted for administration and see if some might be able to transfer to funding teachers.

The school system plans to add 129 instructional positions while eliminating 60 positions in transportation in fiscal 2013, said Larry Cain, a staff auditor for the county.

Council members, like community members, also seemed eager to remedy a lack of middle school sports, which were cut during fiscal 2012 budget negotiations to save $700,000. Franklin and Councilwoman Ingrid M. Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie proposed allowing middle school students to play on junior varsity high school teams or charging middle school students an athletics fee, as is done at the high school level.

Neither are viable options, Hite said. There are safety concerns when middle and high school students play sports together, and the smaller number of middle school athletes would mean an athletics fee much higher than the high schools’ $50 fee, he said.

abrownback@gazette.net