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This year, during the Calvert County budget process, a large number of teachers in the county, including many from Northern High School, spoke at meetings of the county commissioners expressing the hardships the five-year near freeze in teacher pay has had on educators in Calvert County. In response, the county commissioners voted a $1.9 million increase in the county education budget intended to pay for a one-year step increase (as required by the contract between the county and teachers) and a very small pay increase. Now, the elected county board of education has chosen to redirect that money to other purposes and to deny teachers the intended pay increase.

We, the teachers of Northern High School, can no longer sit by as the county again violates our negotiated employment contract, freezing our pay for another year. The teacher contract includes a pay scale. A teacher in his or her first year is paid an agreed upon amount. A teacher in the fifth year of the contract is paid more, a teacher in the 10th year is paid more, etc. These pay steps allow teachers to buy homes, pay for their children’s educations and generally take care of their families. In the last five years, teachers have been given only one step increase. So, for five years, the county has been in violation of our agreed upon employment contract.

At the same time, we have seen large increases in our required contributions to the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System (still one of the worst teacher retirements in the nation, we lose many teachers who move to nearby states whose retirement plans are much more lucrative), increases in medical costs (2014-2015 teacher contributions are increasing another 13 percent) and steady cost of living increases with which we are not keeping up. The net effect of this freeze has been a steady and substantial decrease in compensation for teachers working in Calvert County.

Everyone in the county is aware that Maryland schools are rated as the best in the nation, and that Calvert County schools are consistently rated as the best in the state. Part of that success can certainly be attributed to the county’s ability to attract and retain the best teachers from good colleges across the country. We question whether that success can continue under the current circumstances.

Over the last few years, we have seen a large number of Northern teachers retire before they might otherwise have chosen to, leave Northern for teaching jobs elsewhere and, most sadly, leave teaching altogether for more lucrative careers in the private sector. Again this year, we are losing very good teachers who cannot justify staying at Northern while seeing the compensation they depend upon to take care of their families diminish. This is no doubt an element in Northern falling out of the U.S. News and World Report rankings as one of the best high schools in America for the first time in years.

Calvert County is the 13th wealthiest county in the nation, according to Forbes magazine, with a median household income of $92,395 and a median home price of $368,100, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is an accomplishment for which we should all be proud, but one that makes it a very expensive place for teachers’ families. One very committed young Northern teacher about to start his sixth year in the county, but who has received only one pay step since signing his initial contract, reports that rent for his one-bedroom apartment in the county consumes well over 40 percent of his take-home pay. Were he married with children, how could he possibly remain in his job?

When county budgets are tight and the increasing costs of education are straining county education budgets, shouldn’t teachers expect to work for less? The fact is that new education mandates from the federal and state governments are the things straining local school board budgets. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, and the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, all programs now required by law, are and will continue to cost Calvert County tens of millions of dollars as new staffing, technology, classroom materials and multimillion-dollar software packages are required to comply with their requirements.

It is unfair to place the cost of these federal and state mandates on the backs of teachers. If U.S. and Maryland governments require massive increases in the cost of education, those governments need to fund those increases. Teachers should not see their pay frozen year after year to pay for the new demands placed on schools by the state and federal departments of education.

Teachers in Maryland are prohibited by law from striking. Further, Maryland denies teachers the right to binding arbitration (a lesson local educators learned in 2009, when we won an arbitration against the Calvert County Board of Education for initially breaking our contract and the board simply decided to ignore the arbitrator’s decision). The only option left to county teachers is to protest by doing less. Calvert County teachers voluntarily work long hours beyond the contractual school day, planning and grading at home, working for free at events like Back to School Night, freshman orientation, graduation, overnight field trips, etc. In the coming school year, we will have to consider boycotts of these voluntary acts as the only way we can protest the county’s continual violation of our contract and negotiated pay structures. No one wants to do this, but what are our options?

The Calvert County Board of Education needs to apply the money allocated to the 2014-2015 budget by the county commissioners for teacher pay to that purpose. Further, the commissioners and school board need to plan budgets so teacher pay steps can be restored in future years. Calvert County teachers can no longer afford to see their families suffer to pay for educational mandates from the state and national governments over which we have no control.

Carrie Bonalewicz, Kimberleigh Booros, Rachael Chipkin, Gary Clites, Robin R. Clites, J. Seth Cranford, Paul E. Crickenberger, Jamie Culp, Linda M. Curry, Kathryn Dangin, Lisa M. Davis, K.J. Delamer, Kat Downs, Sara Duckett, Kellie B. Ekelund, Erin Frere, Casey Golden, Lisa K. Hanlon, Devin Hall, Charity Harbeck, Brian C. Himes, Erin Hitchman, Virginia Hoffman, Theresa Jackson, Charlene Johnson, Christine Jones, Stacy Karcesky, Marshall Kawecki, Lisa Lacey, Monica Laserna, Victoria Longsworth, Kristen Lowder, Penny Martin, Stephanie L. Milton, Annie Mooney, Danielle Morrow, Jacqueline A. Mulvey, Justine Novy, Ellen Oldham, Bonnie Peterson, Shawn Powell, Michael Pugliesi, Robert Riccardo, Kevin Richter, Dorothy H. Richards, John D. Rossi, Laura Rozengota, Nora Shockley, Matthew Smith, Robert M. Sparks, Elizabeth Towle, Melissa Trost, Sandy T. Walker, Joanne Weiland, Rich Wolcott and Janette Wysocki, Owings

The writers are Northern High School teachers.