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Advice sought on Washington Co. school cuts

October 24, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County Public Schools officials will send a survey asking residents for advice on ways to reduce the system's spending.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said last week the survey would be sent as soon as officials put on the finishing touches.

"What we're trying to do is ask the stakeholders what they want," Morgan said. "We won't talk about increases ... we'll be asking where (they) want to cut."

The survey is being drafted in the wake of a Tuesday speech in which Gov. Martin O'Malley asked the superintendents of Maryland's 24 public school systems to help reduce a projected $2 billion shortfall next year in the state's $13 billion operational budget.

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Morgan said she missed O'Malley's speech in Annapolis because she had to attend a Washington County Board of Education meeting and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in Hagerstown.

During the speech, O'Malley asked superintendents to join forces to procure textbooks, janitorial services and other things to help keep costs down. The governor also suggested saving money by using a standard design for school construction rather than starting from scratch.

About 85 percent, or $229.2 million, of Washington County Public Schools' budget is dedicated to wages, salaries and benefits, said Tim Thornburg, the school system's supervisor of employee and labor relations.

Thornburg said he sent letters to the two unions that represent teachers and other employees, including custodians and bus drivers, to review their existing contracts.

The Washington County Teachers Association is in the second year of a three year contract. During the last contract negotiation, teachers agreed to a 2 percent pay increase in 2008-09, a 2 percent pay increase in 2009-10 and a 3 percent pay increase in 2010-11.

Denise Fry, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said each year of the contract also carries a step increase, which is equivalent to about an additional 1 percent pay raise.

According to the contract, the teachers' union is required to meet with Thornburg by Oct. 31 to discuss a possible salary increase plus a request of one item from each side for the final year of the contract.

"We'll make every good-faith effort to meet soon," Fry said.

Fry said she doubted that Thornburg would ask the teachers to take pay freezes in about a year, when discussions begin to draft the next contract. Instead, she said she predicted Thornburg would offer lower pay increases.

Janice Tucker, president of Washington County Educational Support Personnel Inc., the union that represents about 1,000 employees, including custodians and bus drivers, said she believed it wouldn't be fair to ask the people she represents to modify their existing four-year contract. Many of those employees, Tucker said, have made financial plans based on the outcome of the previous negotiations.

"A contract is a contract," she said.

Thornburg said support personnel entered their current contract in 2008-09. According to that contract, the union received a revision of its five-step salary scale to an 18-step salary scale in 2008-09, a 2 percent pay increase plus one step in 2009-10, a 3 percent pay increase plus one step in 2010-11, and each side will bring two separate items and a possible salary modification to the table during the final year in 2011-12.

The Washington County Association of Supervisors and Administrators, a nonunion organization that represents principals and other administrators, negotiated a 3 percent pay increase in May that will take effect in January 2010, said Teri Williamson, chair of the association.

She said the salaries of administrators and supervisors are negotiated annually "in a meet-and-confer process" with Morgan.

She said it was too early to predict what the administrators and supervisors would ask for during the next contract negotiation.

Morgan negotiates her contract with the Washington County Board of Education. On Friday, Morgan declined to talk specifically about what the next year might bring as far as her salary is concerned.

"If the opportunity would present itself, I absolutely would want to be in tune with the community," she said.

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