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Union condemns school pay study

December 08, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Union representatives said they believe a plan to change the pay scales of school support workers is unfair because it would give newer employees the most money.

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The Washington County Board of Education commissioned a $35,000 reclassification study in March.

Robert Kulp, a field representative for the Maryland State Teachers Association, said he believed the report to be "almost valueless."

"What they bought here was a pig in a poke," said Kulp, whose duties include helping local affiliates with contract negotiations.

He serves teachers as well as the group of 935 educational support personnel affected by the study.

The School Board received the proposal Nov. 22 and decided to wait 60 days before taking action.

The consultant who drafted the study said it would be inappropriate to respond to the union's criticisms until it submits them officially.

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"If they want to make these comments to the School Board, I'm prepared to respond," said Charles Hendrickson, president of the Washington firm Hendrickson & Associates, Inc. "Apparently, the union doesn't want to follow that process."

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

School Board President Paul Bailey declined to comment until the board holds a public hearing on the study.

"The board does not feel that they have enough information yet," he said. "We want to be better informed before we comment."

Kulp criticized the study as being similar to a report the same consultant gave the County Commissioners in April 1997. The county adopted that study's recommendation to give county workers raises based on a "merit increase formula."

A comparison of the two studies shows that the School Board's version contains several identical passages and the same formula, called a "salary increase formula."

The formula computes raises based on the midpoint of an employee's salary range. Using it, those furthest below the midpoint typically get the greatest percentage increase.

Raises would be based on market increases and "possibly" job performance, the study for the School Board says.

Kulp said he felt the board bought a treatise on merit pay. "They spent $35,000 to buy a personal philosophy as opposed to a study and the philosophy was to advocate for a merit pay scheme," he said.

The reclassification would eliminate step increases for longevity. "If the plan were implemented as proposed, those newest to the system would stand to get the most money," Kulp said.

He likened it to a fiscal trap because it recommends smaller raises once an employee reaches the midpoint of his grade. "It's to snooker them in here," he said.

Hendrickson, in preparing the report, took surveys from support workers, including bus drivers, custodians and secretaries. He directly spoke with 90 people, about 10 percent of the total group.

A previous reclassification study was implemented after 1991.

"Those who worked farthest away from children and those with the most authority, mostly males, got the most increases. This study did nothing to alter that," Kulp said.

"We don't think this really fixed the last study," said Bonnie Parks, president of Educational Support Personnel Local No. 1. "Basically the same problems are still there."

The study would mostly benefit 38 people, according to Kulp. It would cost $45,000 to implement and Kulp said $36,160 of that would go to 4 percent of the union's workforce.

Although it recommends moving other employees to higher grades, without raises that means nothing, Kulp said.

"It's a prettier name. I can't buy a loaf of bread with that," he said.

"They have a responsibility to see that each category is compensated fairly," said Parks. She said the School Board could have used a free National Education Association reclassification study.

Human Resources Director Phil Ray said staff did consider an NEA study, but it would have taken 2 1/2 years. Kulp said the study could have been done within a year, about the same amount of time the consultant took.

Kulp said he favors raises for support workers, but the study is flawed. "We don't think anybody in the school system is overpaid," he said. "Equity, however, was not achieved."

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