- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s school board and negotiators for school employee unions have reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract that includes a 1.5 percent raise for employees next school year.
The contract does not include any step increases, which are given to some employees based on years of service, but does add a host of perks for teachers and other employees.
Superintendent Michael Martirano announced at a school board meeting Wednesday morning that the negotiating teams reached the agreement March 30. The contracts with the two local school unions still have to be ratified by school employees and signed by the school board.
The tentative agreement is for fiscal years 2013 through 2015 for most contract language; negotiations may be reopened for salary adjustments in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
Next year’s raises for 2,300 employees will cost about $1.7 million.
Along with a 1.5 percent cost of living raise to go into effect July 1 for all employees, the contract adds a third type of health care option expected to provide savings to both employees and the school system, Martirano said. The new language also increases the maximum amount the school system will pay for retirees’ health insurance.
The contract modestly increases tuition reimbursement for employees and includes opportunities for telecommuting for 12-month employees under certain inclement weather scenarios.
For the first time, teachers and other exempt employees will be allowed to acquire up to 16 hours of flex time for certain types of work beyond normal responsibilities, Martirano said.
Liz Leskinen, the UniServ director appointed by the state education union to help in local negotiations, said that if teachers are asked to prepare a special presentation on their own time, they could count that as flexible hours to take off for personal issues later, as long as an extra substitute teacher would not be needed.
Specialists such as nurses and therapists will now be able to earn an extra $3,000 if they receive specific national certification, similar to an option available to teachers, Leskinen said. Also new is the ability for employees to transfer sick leave to immediate family members who are also school employees. And a trained school administrator will now be able to order a drug or alcohol test of an employee if suspicions of intoxication arise.
Leskinen said that the local school unions were able to get workplace perks in the contract as a trade-off for the modest raises. However, the lack of step increases in the proposed contract was bemoaned on both sides.
That absence “is a concern for us, because we wanted to make sure steps were included,” Martirano said, adding that the money was not available.
Wanda Twigg, president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County, thanked the school system’s negotiators for their politeness during the process. “They treat us very well and we have a conversation about every topic, whether they like it or not,” Twigg said Wednesday.
She lamented the step increases could not be included and said she would hope the county commissioners would consider funding the school board’s full budget request for next year.
The commissioners last month gave approval for $80.6 million in county funding, a $3 million increase from the current year but about $2 million short of the school board’s request.
Twigg said the “small raise” in the contracts was appreciated and that along with the working condition improvements should have a positive impact on morale. After last year’s ongoing budget debates that included talks of layoffs and furlough days, teachers and other school employees will appreciate the relatively quiet and positive tone of this year’s budget season, she said.
However, Twigg said she wished the raise would have at least matched the raise announced for St. Mary’s County government employees, who are scheduled to get a 2 percent pay raise and a $500 stipend next fiscal year.
School board member Cathy Allen said that it is difficult to meet the needs of employees and the needs of students, especially when using taxpayer money.
“These people become more than just a child’s teacher ... they become your friends and you want to do well by them,” Allen said, adding that the tentative agreement is “a very workable solution.”
School board members and Martirano on Wednesday thanked the county commissioners for settling on an amount of money for the school system’s budget early. That move, they said, allowed for the tentative agreement to be reached earlier than in past years. “We wished we could compensate them further, but the economics have not allowed for that,” he said.
Martirano also praised the school board’s negotiating team, led by Brad Clements, chief operating officer, Linda Dudderar, chief academic officer, and Greg Nourse, chief of fiscal services and human resources. The superintendent said Clements, the lead negotiator, has “an unflappable way to deal with many pieces of information from many sources.”
Terrie Butt, president of the Collective Education Association of St. Mary’s County, said that she, too, appreciated the hard work of the negotiators on both sides.
“All three negotiations teams ... worked extremely hard to do the very best given the constraints,” Butt said in a statement. “We had hoped for the steps that our members have earned and deserve, but there just wasn’t enough local funding to allow for them.”