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Teacher pay challenge questioned

February 17, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Commissioners said they welcome Gov. Parris Glendening's plan to give teachers a 10 percent pay raise over two years, but they don't know if they can afford to help pay for it.

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Last week, Glendening proposed increasing every public school teacher's salary through statewide "challenge grants." For two years, the state would fund a 4 percent raise if each county contributes 1 percent.

While the commissioners are happy to have the state's 8 percent, they said they don't know if they can meet the governor's challenge.

"I can support it in principle," said Commissioner William Wivell. "But I'd rather see something more permanent that goes beyond two years."

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After that period, Wivell said, the full burden of that 10 percent would fall on the county. That works out to about $5.5 million in 2003, according to an estimate by Chris South, Washington County Board of Education Director of Budget and Finance.

Wivell said the state seems to be handing down more financial responsibilities to the county level. Maryland has large surplus, and Washington County is sort of strapped, he said.

Wivell said he is concerned that the governor's proposal addresses only teachers' salaries and doesn't provide anything for school support workers.

"Certainly one of our major concerns is the competitiveness of our teachers' salaries," said Commissioner John Schnebly. "Sometimes the economics of these matches doesn't really work for the rural counties."

Annapolis is in an urban corridor, and Schnebly said he wonders if the state government considers how difficult it will be for the poorer counties to sustain a 10 percent increase. "It might be too expensive," he said.

Schnebly said the state's annual contribution to education has increased by about 1 percent while the county's contribution has increased by 9 percent.

"We would welcome greater state participation in helping fund the School Board's budget," he said.

The governor's plan includes extra money, called "enhancement funding," for counties with low wealth. Washington County stands to receive $1,692,714 in challenge grants and $916,337 in enhancement funding, a total of $2.6 million over two years.

That's more than 14 other counties would get. Baltimore City stands to get the most at $16 million. Montgomery County would get $13 million. Frederick County would get $3 million.

"I certainly think it makes sense if we can afford it," said Commissioner Bert L Iseminger Jr. "We're going to look very long and hard at this to see if we can include it in our budget."

The raise "sends a positive message to young folks out there who are looking at careers that society values what teachers do and we will fairly compensate them."

The governor's goal is to make teacher pay in Maryland competitive. A statewide raise would help the state compete against other states in the region.

That's important locally because neighboring states West Virginia and Pennsylvania often draw away qualified teachers, according to Human Resources Director Phil Ray.

A teacher shortage makes the labor market more intense and Washington County also competes within the state, where its average teacher pay ranks among the lowest. A statewide raise would not change that ranking.

If the governor's initiative helps only the richest areas like Montgomery County increase its salaries, the pay gap will get larger.

"I'm not sure what the answer is," said Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. "It's a really difficult issue for us in Washington County. But it's an important issue."

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