County commissioners compare county with school salaries -- Gazette.Net


While Frederick County teachers continue their salary negotiations with the school board, some county commissioners are pushing to compare increases in teachers’ salaries during the past decade to those of county employees.

At a joint meeting with the school board Tuesday, commissioners brought forward a document that attempts to compare the raises for Frederick County teachers since 2003 to the salary increases of county employees during the same time period.

Compiled by county employees, the document captures cost-of-living salary adjustments and step or merit increases; it does not account for bonuses, reclassifications or other upgrades.

Commissioners were asking school officials to verify the information in the document, which estimates that during the past decade, teachers’ salaries increased by 56 percent, while county staff salaries went up by 44 percent.

Blaine Young (R), president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, said he asked his staff to compile the analysis to illustrate the fact that commissioners are not favoring their employees as opposed to school system staff.

“I asked them to do this analysis two months ago,” said Young, who added he only wanted to set the record straight on salary increases.

County commissioners are planning to give their 2,000 employees a 1 percent cost-of-living salary increase in the fiscal 2013 budget; it is estimated to cost about $1 million. However, the county is funding the school system at the minimum level that it is required by the state, making the push for a raise more of an uphill battle, according to advocates.

The salary comparison was based on information obtained from the school system through a public information request, but school officials never formally verified the information, Young said.

School system officials on Tuesday verified the information with minor changes. Calculations in the document are based on an average step increase of 3.5 percent for fiscal 2003 and 2004. However, that average was lower because fewer employees took advantage of the step increase, said school system fiscal director Leslie Pellegrino. The school system now is calculating the exact average, and will provide it to the county as soon as possible.

According to the analysis, between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2009, school system employees received an average cost-of-living salary increase of 3 percent, while the county’s average cost-of-living increase was 1.9 percent. Neither school staff nor county employees received cost-of-living salary adjustments in fiscal 2010, 2011 or 2012.

“If our economy is flat, it seems to me that if you grant raises than you are on an unsustainable track,” said County Commissioner C. Paul Smith (R).

Gary Brennan, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association, which is in the midst of salary negotiations with the school board, said the salary comparison is misleading because it is too simplistic.

The comparison, for example, does not factor in reclassification of positions, which Frederick County used to do every three years until fiscal 2009, Brennan said. As part of that process, the county would evaluate one-third of its positions and move some of them up the pay scale, he said.

However, the school system however does not have a comparable practice, Brennan said.

School officials defended their decisions about teacher salaries, and said without increases it is harder to retain and recruit highly qualified teachers.

“The jobs is tough and people are burning out,” Superintendent Theresa Alban said.

According to Alban, when the school system gave teachers significant cost-of-living salary increases, it simply was trying to follow state guidelines.

Since passing the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act — also known as the Thornton Plan — in 2002, Maryland has provided historic levels of aid to its public schools, encouraging school systems to focus on improving student achievement by improving teacher quality, Alban said. This allowed Frederick County to give teachers higher cost-of-living salary increases in order to attract and retain highly qualified teachers.

“The board of education at that time had made it a goal to see that teacher salaries are in the top 25 percent in the state,” she said. “But in the last few years we have lost that funding.”

Brennan thinks the analysis was motivated by the commissioners’ desire to make teachers look bad.

“This is blatantly a political document,” Brennan said. “This is just another political attack on board of education employees.”