Montgomery Co. Teachers Give up Next Year's Pay Raise

Move saves school system $89 million

In a move that saves the school system $89 million, teachers and other school workers in Montgomery County agreed Tuesday to give up a 5 percent salary increase next year.

The concession lets Superintendent Jerry D. Weast balance the budget of Maryland's largest school system.

Leaders representing more than 22,000 workers in four employee associations agreed to forgo the raise all workers would have received in the fiscal year that begins in July. Weast said he and other top administrators would also lose annual increases.

Education officials said this was the first time since the early 1990s that Montgomery school employees had given up a contractual pay raise, a sign of the severity of the economic challenge. School board President Nancy Navarro praised unions for "tremendous sacrifice during these tough times."

Under the Montgomery deal, about two-thirds of school employees would receive customary "step" raises based on increasing seniority.

Employee groups agreed to renegotiate their contracts, which called for three consecutive increases of about 5 percent each.

"Employees have done their part," Bonnie Cullison, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said in a news release. She said teachers are now counting on county leaders "to minimize the harm to our schools."

Weast said the pay raises "became our targets" when school system leaders realized that they had no other means of reducing expenses without increasing class sizes and lowering the challenge of instruction. "We're trying to do all of this without any loss of quality," he said.

For the first time in more than 10 years, the 139,000-student system expects nearly no funding increase from the county. Education leaders projected they would have needed $180 million, a 9 percent increase, to preserve the raises, keep pace with enrollment growth and avoid staff cuts.

The pay concessions go halfway toward balancing the budget, which Weast will present to the school board next week. Weast also will propose cutting 280 jobs, for a savings of $38 million. Weast said the positions will come from central administration and from schools, not classrooms. School officials could not say whether the cuts could be achieved without layoffs.

County Council member Valerie Ervin, who chairs the education committee, praised the labor groups for recognizing "the grave nature of the situation." She predicted that the council will accept Weast's plan.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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