A teachers union is in heated negotiations with a Maryland school district, despite lucrative automatic pay raises that could increase salaries by as much as 9 percent, according to school officials.
Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose says that the teachers union has made unreasonable demands of the school district. The district has already offered automatic 3 percent cost of living increases for the district’s teachers, as well as step increases that will boost wages "an average of between 6 and 9 percent."
"Our teachers have worked hard and they deserve a raise, but they’re asking for money we don’t have," Foose said.
The district has budgeted more than $20 million to give raises to its 8,000 employees in 2015, according to the district. Teachers in the county have seen their pay increase by more than 40 percent since the 2005 fiscal year. Howard County, a Washington, D.C., suburb, remains one of the highest paying school districts in Maryland with teachers earning an average of nearly $70,000.
"This is a destination for teachers," Foose said. "Our goal is to have the most competitive wages in our region."
Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Education Association, said that the district’s new budget falls short of that goal. While pay in Howard County remains among the highest in the state, it is well below that of its neighbors. The district would need a 15 percent increase, in order to pull even with neighboring Montgomery County, the state’s highest-paying district.
"I read that anybody earning less than $70,000 a year is working poor here. Howard County is an expensive place to live, but it is a good place to live and work in," Lemle said.
The county is one of the wealthiest in the country with a median household income of more than $105,000 and an average per capita income of $47,662 in 2012, according to the Census Bureau. A new teacher who has earned a Masters Degree earns a starting salary of about $50,000 in Howard County.
The union also disputes the nature of the district’s salary proposals. While the cost of living adjustment would go into effect immediately, the step increases would not take effect until March.
"The money that will reach teachers’ pockets is only a quarter of what the increase is on paper," Lemle said. "It is really hard to accept the characterization that teachers were greedy."
Foose does not blame teachers for the stalled negotiations. She said the union is to blame for fostering a poor environment for teachers and creating grievances where none exist.
Foose said the union is taking advantage of an election year to pressure the Board of Education for a more generous deal, even if those raises threaten to force program and hiring cuts.
"It’s absolutely about this being an election year," she said. "When you put politics over people the people who get hurt are the students and the teachers. Now is the time for compromise"
Lemle said that the union was "happy to see the board value its teachers" with the salary proposals, but says that his members are going to need other concessions pertaining to work conditions and free time. The union and the school district will appear before a mediator on Wednesday, in order to strike a deal.
"We’re getting pretty close," he said. "I’m optimistic and hopeful that we can reach an agreement."