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Most BOE members support pay freezes for Central Office employees

Union representing WCPS support personnel is holding out in contract renegotiation

Union representing WCPS support personnel is holding out in contract renegotiation

December 23, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- A majority of Washington County Board of Education members said Wednesday they would support pay freezes for Central Office employees to help reduce a projected $10.6 million shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.

Timothy D. Thornburg, supervisor of employee and labor relations for Washington County Public Schools, said Tuesday during a meeting that the Washington County Teachers Association and the Washington County Educational Support Personnel have been asked to renegotiate their labor contracts.

He said the teachers union has agreed, but the union representing support personnel -- which includes custodians, maintenance workers and bus drivers -- is holding out.

T. Scott Miller, chief negotiator for the Educational Support Personnel union, said in a telephone interview after Tuesday's meeting that school system officials are required by law to honor the contract.

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One of the provisions of the support personnel's contract includes a 3 percent pay increase for the 2010-11 school year.

But with a looming budget shortfall, some members of the school board said every employee needs to contribute -- including those at the top.

Board members Paul Bailey, Donna Brightman, W. Edward Forrest, Wayne Ridenour and William Staley said they supported asking Central Office employees to take a pay freeze, should that be necessary.

Board member Ruth Anne Callaham declined to comment.

"Everyone is going to have to feel some of the brunt of the economic situation," Bailey said. "The outlook is fairly bleak, and sacrifices probably will have to be made from top to bottom."

"I'm speaking just as one member," Brightman said. "Everything is on the table ... We should be in this together."

Staley said that although the support personnel union needs to come to the bargaining table, pay freezes should start with the leadership and "trickle down" to other employees.

"I believe everybody should be treated the same," Staley said.

Board member Justin Hartings said he supports the pay raises that are included in the system's 2010 budget, but "everything is on the table in 2011."

The system would save about $7 million if pay freezes were adopted, said Chris South, chief financial officer for Washington County Public Schools.

He said the system needs to find ways to cut costs, especially at a time when its two main funding sources -- the county and state governments -- are facing shortfalls of their own.

In October, Gov. Martin O'Malley put public school superintendents on notice, saying they needed to cut costs to help the state reduce a projected $2 billion deficit. That figure has been trimmed to about $1.5 billion, primarily from cuts to the state's Public Works Department.

South said about $138 million, or 60 percent, of the system's general fund is provided by the state. The county funds about $87.8 million, or roughly 38 percent.

Salaries, wages and benefits account for about 85 percent of the system's budget, South said. Maintenance, transportation and other services make up the remaining 15 percent.

Some members of the support personnel union said during Tuesday's meeting that they earn the least amount of money, and suggested that employees in the Central Office should share the burden.

According to Washington County Public Schools documents, Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan, who said she did not want to comment for this story, is the system's highest-paid employee.

She earned $174,195 in fiscal year 2008-09, making her the 12th highest-paid superintendent of 24 superintendents in the state.

Forty-eight system employees, including directors, principals and supervisors, earned more than $100,000 each in fiscal year 2008-09.

Annual salaries over the same period for support personnel ranged from less than $5,000 for a crossing guard and a food-service assistant to $59,758 for a maintenance worker, documents show.

How many would be affected?



Central Office employee breakdown:

Total employees, 272

Administrators and supervisors, 77

Educational support personnel (such as custodians and secretaries), 147

Executive staff (including Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan), 6

Teachers (based in Central Office but work on special programs in schools), 42

The school system has about 1,750 teachers and 1,100 support personnel.

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