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Members of all three Washington Co. school worker groups likely to get raises

June 15, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

All three groups representing Washington County Public Schools employees are expected to get raises if the school board approves contract proposals at a meeting Tuesday, according to some school board members.

Although none of those who spoke about the raises would provide figures, board Vice President W. Edward Forrest said this week: “It’s not a lot.”

“In my opinion, most employees will probably break even with all those things considered,” such as increased pension and health care costs facing employees, Forrest said.

The county board of education will vote Tuesday on a new contract with the Washington County Teachers Association, renegotiated aspects of the last year of its contract with the Washington County Educational Support Personnel and an agreement with the nonunion Washington County Association of Supervisors and Administrators, said Tim Thornburg, supervisor of employee and labor relations.

The board meeting at the central office off Commonwealth Avenue is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

Chief negotiators for the school system and the unions representing teachers and support personnel had agreed not to disclose contract details until after the school board vote, said Thornburg and T. Scott Miller, chief negotiator for the two unions.

Thornburg and Miller said the teachers’ contract proposal is for three years, with pay to be renegotiated for the second and third years.

Forrest and board member Karen Harshman said all three employee groups would get raises if the deals are approved.

“I think that what ... all the negotiated agreements reflect, is a respect for the positions as well as for tax dollars,” Harshman said.

Board member Jacqueline Fischer said she wouldn’t characterize the pay increases as what normally would be built into a contract. Fischer declined to say more because the chief negotiators wanted to wait until Tuesday to release details.

“If we’re elected to make those decisions, then they should trust us. I do understand the economy. It’s tough,” she said. “Decisions on the contract were tough. Next year will be tough.”

The teachers’ current pact expires June 30, while the final year of the contract with the support personnel union kicks in July 1.

Neither cost-of-living increases nor step increases were given to members of any of the three employee bargaining units this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Forrest said the small raises proposed will not make up “for what wasn’t on the table last year.”

Negotiations with the teachers and support personnel unions resulted in an impasse last summer over issues that included salaries.

In November, the school system settled with the teachers union, providing a one-time $500 stipend to employees represented by both unions, as well as to supervisors and administrators.

In January, the school system settled with support personnel, agreeing to provide a one-time payment of 1 percent of support personnel’s base pay. That was in lieu of 3 percent raises and step increases, if applicable, that were called for this fiscal year in the support personnel union’s contract.

Forrest said he would not vote on the agreement for supervisors and administrators because his wife is a principal.

He said he hoped the details of the proposed employee agreements would be posted on the school system’s website with the meeting agenda on Friday.

School board President Wayne Ridenour Tuesday didn’t want to say whether employee groups were getting raises because he didn’t want to “step on the toes of all of the people that did the work at the table.”

Told Wednesday that other board members said the board would vote on small pay increases, Ridenour said that was accurate.

“We just feel that what we did was fair. I feel what we did was fair, considering everything that is going on,” Ridenour said. He said he recused himself from negotiations with the teachers’ union and won’t vote on that contract because his wife is a teacher.

Tough times ahead
Tough times are still ahead as school system officials await possible changes at the state level.

State legislators are considering whether to pass on pension costs to local school systems, and Ridenour said it was possible changes could be made to the formulas for state contributions to local jurisdictions.

“My concern is, with a continuing weak economy and the pension, it’s going to be hard to know what we’re going to be able to do the next time around,” board member Donna Brightman said.

She termed the possible pay increases “a good-faith gesture.”

Board member Justin Hartings would not comment on the  increases, saying he would do so at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“The negotiating teams for both parties set down as one of their ground rules that this would be confidential until voted on. Until that time I’m just not going to make any comment,” Hartings said.

Board member Paul Bailey could not be reached for comment.

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