Montgomery council, superintendent clash over raises -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated at 2:10 p.m. May 25.

Of the approximately 22,000 Montgomery County Public Schools employees, about 15,000 will receive two raises in fiscal 2013, steps county officials warn could limit their ability to address future classroom needs.

The raises were negotiated to compensate employees who did not receive raises under previous agreements. If approved, the contracts provide pay increases for fiscal 2013 as well as the step increases some employees would have gotten in 2011.

The school system has tentatively agreed to contracts that grant an average 4.8 percent increase to employees with an average 3.4 percent increase in fiscal 2013, and an average 1.4 percent bump later the same year for those who were due a step increase in fiscal 2011, according to a letter from Superintendent Joshua P. Starr to councilmembers.

“We have made the choice to reward our employees for their exceptional work and to give them hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Starr wrote.

News of the double raises drew fire from county officials who did not provide increases in base pay to the vast majority of employees in the fiscal 2013 budget approved Thursday.

County and education officials exchanged letters sent Wednesday following a Tuesday meeting between Starr, school board and County Council leaders.

“This twofold addition to the salary base raises serious questions about the capacity to address critical classroom needs within a Maintenance of Effort budget going forward,” Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) warned in a letter to Starr and school board President Shirley Brandman (At large) of Bethesda.

“The Executive and the Council fully intend to meet the MOE requirement for MCPS budget again in FY14, but, with the continued uncertainty about the economic recovery, the Board should certainly not assume that we can or will exceed it,” Berliner and Leggett wrote.

“The Board of Education and I recognize that the County Council has decided to compensate its employees differently and we certainly respect that decision,” Starr wrote.

Approximately 15,000 employees, of which about 9,300 are teachers, will receive two base-pay increases under the tentative contracts, said Larry Bowers, the school system’s chief operating officer.

Starr explained the agreement in his letter as:

n all active MCPS employees hired before Feb. 1, 2012 will receive a compensation increase on July 1 of either 2 percent or their longevity or step increase.

n on May 4, 2013, the step that was eliminated in fiscal 2011 will be restored to employees who were eligible at that time.

n on average, employees will receive a 3.4 percent increase in fiscal 2013 and an additional 1.4 percent in May 2013 for a net increase of about 4.8 percent over two years.

The approximately 100 exempt employees will receive similar pay increases, Bowers said. Pay increases for nonunion executive employees have not been determined.

The school system will spend a gross $51.7 million on additional employee pay next fiscal year, which starts July 1, he said.

A portion of the second step increase — $4.4 million — is covered under the fiscal 2013 spending plan.

Most of the total $26.9 million cost of bumping salaries in May 2013 will fall in fiscal 2014, Bowers said, putting its gross fiscal impact at about $22.2 million that year.

If the school system negotiates step increases in the fiscal 2014 contract, education employees could enjoy another pay increase less than two months later, in July 2013, Bowers said.

“Accordingly, we are concerned that the ongoing costs of these compensation agreements will crowd out your ability in future years to fund enhancements that parents and teachers alike have been asking for to improve the teaching experience and student learning,” Leggett and Berliner wrote.

A more prudent approach in the county’s eyes would have been to provide raises commensurate with “the timing of an improving economy,” they said.

While county employees will also see some additional money make its way into their pockets in 2013, for most employees, it will be a one-time $2,000 payment — which for those making the average county salary of $85,679 is an average payment of about 2.3 percent of their total salary but will not increase their base rate. The cost of the lump sum payments is about $16.36 million; the county’s total personnel expenditures are $924.7 million.

To add a second raise for education employees when “no employee in any other county agency will receive even one base pay raise” is concerning, Leggett and Berliner said.

County spokesman Patrick Lacefield clarified that about 491 county employees will receive a base pay raise through longveity increases in fiscal 2013.

MCPS contracts are scheduled for vote by the school board June 14.

Staff Writer Jen Bondeson contributed to this report.