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State offers teacher pay incentive

February 08, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The state is offering Washington County a $2.6 million incentive to boost teacher salaries by 10 percent over the next two years.

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Under the statewide challenge issued Tuesday, Washington County would have to give teachers a 4 percent raise in 2001 and another 4 percent raise in 2002. The state would provide another 1 percent salary boost each year.

The question now becomes whether the county will be able to afford the raises at a cost of $2.18 million the first year and $4.59 million the second year. After that, the raises would become an ongoing expense for the local board.

Of the state's $2.6 million incentive package for Washington County, $1.7 million would go directly to teacher raises. The other $900,000 could be spent on anything in the schools, but it's intended to help the county afford the raises, said Michael Morrill, spokesman for Gov. Parris Glendening.

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The Washington County Board of Education and the Washington County Commissioners will have to take a serious look at the offer, said Phil Ray, human resources director for the Washington County Board of Education.

"It's going to be a big incentive. The way to get dealt into this game is to hit the magic number. Nobody's going to want to leave this money on the table," Ray said.

The offer will play a role in teacher salary negotiations, which are just weeks away from being wrapped up, local school officials said.

"This would have been nice if it would have come a little earlier, saved a lot of aggravation," said Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association.

The County Commissioners and members of the local School Board were reluctant to comment on the offer until they knew more about its implications.

"It sounds good," Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said.

Teacher salaries have long been a top priority for the School Board.

Teachers got a 4 percent salary increase this year, Ray said.

The raises are designed to help Maryland schools attract and keep quality teachers, said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

A 10 percent boost in the next two years would help make Washington County competitive with neighboring Pennsylvania, which has lured some of its teachers with higher pay, said Ray and Chirgott.

But if surrounding Maryland counties give its teachers 10 percent raises, it won't stop the move toward the Baltimore and Washington suburbs, they said.

The plan is included in Glendening's proposed 2001 budget. The $90 million it would cost statewide would come from the tobacco settlement.

The plan still needs Maryland General Assembly approval, but House and Senate leaders put their weight squarely behind the idea at a press conference Tuesday.

"We know a good thing when we see it," said Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-Baltimore City, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Local lawmakers who were invited to the press conference said they liked the plan.

"Whatever we can do to assist in helping raise teacher salaries is beneficial," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

His niece, who has a degree in elementary education, is driving a UPS truck because it pays more and is less stressful, he said.

McKee said an across-the-board raise won't solve one of Washington County's problems, which is the county's low ranking in terms of pay for experienced teachers.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, called the plan fantastic.

"I would encourage our county lawmakers to make the sacrifices necessary to do the full 4 percent, to give our teachers and students the best possible advantage," he said.

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