Montgomery County Public School employees have something to celebrate this summer.
All employees will see pay increases next school year for the first time in two or three years.
About 80 percent of employees, or about 17,600, will receive step or longevity increases, and the remaining 20 percent will receive increases of 2 percent, as part of a contract between the school system and the three unions representing administrators and principals, teachers and support staff, according to Larry Bowers, the school system’s chief operating officer.
The contract totals $47 million and represents a $20 million increase to the school system’s operating budget, Bowers said.
School system employees have given up step and longevity increases for two years, and have not received cost-of-living adjustments for three years.
Under the agreement, employees that were eligible for a step increase in fiscal 2011 will receive that increase in fiscal 2013.
“This agreement speaks to the long-term healing and sustainability of our school system,” schools chief Joshua P. Starr said Monday.
The unions will present the proposed agreement to their members. On June 14, the Board of Education will take a final vote.
The compensation increases for school system employees have left county employees asking why they got left behind, according to County Council member Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.
The county gave its workers a $2,000 lump sum for fiscal 2013, as well as longevity increases to those who qualified — about 491 of 8,200 employees will receive between 2 percent and 3.5 percent increases, according to county spokesman Patrick Lacefield.
At a county budget work session May 16, before the contract details were released, council members asked school officials to address the disparity among the compensation increases.
Starr said he is faced with maintaining the excellence of the system, when teachers are leaving the profession because of changing demands.
“And so the question becomes, How do we motivate our 22,000 employees to continue the great service to our kids and community?” Starr said.
Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park asked if the school system envisioned that employees would feel they had a guaranteed entitlement to more money in the future.
“I don’t envision a guaranteed anything,” Starr said.
The county would have taken a different approach to the increases, Lacefield said.
By giving a pay increase rather than a lump sum payment, as the county gave its employees, the school system has established a continuing cost that will extend into future budgets, he said.
“We gave a $2,000 lump sum because we felt that it was appropriate to give something, but we also wanted to be very prudent given the fragile state of the economy,” he said.
Merle Cuttitta, president of Service Employees International Union Local 500, said the two compensation systems differ, and should not be compared.
Doug Prouty, board president of the Montgomery County Education Association, which represents about 12,000 classroom teachers, thanked the school system for recognizing what the teachers have given up during the past few years.
“The contract recognizes that the teachers and support staff all have reached the point that they need some encouragement and stability in the future,” he said.
In the union contracts, administrators get longevity increases at five and 10 years; support staff get them at 10, 14 and 18 years, and teachers get them at 25 years.
Step and longevity increases vary per individual and position. For administrators, step increases are 3 percent; 3 percent to 3.8 percent for teachers; and 2 percent for support staff. Longevity increases are $1,500 for administrators; 2.25 percent for teachers; and 3 percent to 4 percent for support staff, Bowers said.
On average, a teacher earns $74,855 annually. An average salary for a member of Service Employees International Union Local 500 is $42,850. An average member of the 800-member Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals earns $123,918.
Under the contract, there also will be changes to employee health plans.
Prescription co-pays will go up by $10 for nongeneric drugs, and doctor co-pays, which are now between $5 and $10, will go up about $5 or $10, depending on the plan and if it is a primary care doctor. These changes are expected to save about $7.5 million, Starr said.
Other changes include the elimination of pencil and paper bubble sheets for grading, the creation of an elementary online attendance system in the next two years and an initiative to reduce paperwork in special education and English for Speakers of Other Languages.