Passage last week of the county budget for fiscal year 2015 without added funding for salary increases in Harford County Public Schools triggered a contingency provision in the teachers’ contract providing two paid days off next school year. The contract for 2014-15 also allows the school board to provide additional unnamed benefits, subject to voluntary participation and further negotiation. However, the contract does not include controversial “fair share” fees, or fees charged to non-union members for the union’s labor negotiation services.
The Harford County Council on May 27th passed an operating budget that failed to provide an extra $8.5 million specifically for school system salary increases. The $8.5 million figure set forth in the teachers’ contract with the school board would have funded a 1% cost of living increase for all HCPS employees at a cost of $2.9 million; and for eligible employees, one step increase costing $4.7 million, and one longevity increment costing $900,000, according to Jillian Lader, HCPS manager of communications.
The county’s failure to provide the extra money drew fire last week from Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association (HCEA), the union representing teachers. “It’s despicable, for five years the council hasn’t given increases to the school system that even keep up with inflation,” he said.
Nonetheless, the lack of county funding triggered two paid days off and a reduction in the number of required meetings for teachers next school year, per the 2014-15 contract negotiated between HCEA and the Harford County Board of Education. However, if the school board identifies funds within its own fiscal year 2015 budget to provide a salary increase, the contingency provision will be void, according to Lader. Responding via email on Monday to a question from The Dagger, Lader wrote: “Any additional compensation approved by the BOE as it balances its budget would eliminate the contingency of paid non-work days.”
The Board has a budget balancing meeting scheduled for Wednesday, June 4th, to close an overall funding gap in its operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2014.
Burbey said in an interview last week that teachers were struggling financially, losing homes and leaving “in droves”; with new teacher recruitment impeded because step increases have not been funded in four of the past five years. “Regardless of county funding, steps should be funded, period,” Burbey said.
Asked what the school board should cut to provide the necessary $4.7 million, Burbey said that he believed the actual cost would be much lower, but cuts could come from instructional facilitator positions, as well as budgeted allocations for items such as paper, textbooks, transportation, and extra-curricular activities.
If the school board does not cut its budget to provide the salary increase, Lader said that the provision for the paid days off would apply, and Superintendent Barbara Canavan would identify the two days for implementation next school year. The two days would not affect the 180 required days of instruction for students, Lader said.
The two paid days off would also apply to employees in the Harford County Educational Services Council (HCESC), the union representing school nurses, school secretaries, inclusion helpers, and other instructional support personnel, per a similar provision in its negotiated contract for next year. Lader said that, if implemented, two paid days off would also likely be provided to all other school employees. Including HCEA and HCESC, which together cover approximately 80% of school system employees, there are a total of five bargaining unions in Harford County Public Schools. Lader wrote, “Past practice suggests that, following bargaining, all units would receive the contingency.”
The teachers’ contract for 2014-15 includes a number of other new provisions, including an intriguing new provision for “additional benefits” that Burbey said came from HCPS. The provision reads:
“Additional Benefits – The Board may provide additional benefits to employees for which participation is voluntary. The additional benefits must be mutually agreed upon by the Board and [Harford County Education] Association.”
Asked for examples of such benefits, Lader wrote in an email:
”Additional benefits would include any voluntary employee benefits, mutually agreed upon between the BOE and the bargaining unit, for which employees pay the full cost for participation. As these items would need to be agreed upon by the Board of Education and the bargaining unit, specific examples are not available at this time.”
A similar provision appears in the HCESC contract for 2014-15.
Notably absent from the teachers’ contract are controversial “fair share” fees, for which all Maryland public school employee unions won the right to negotiate, beginning with contracts for the 2014-15 school year. Where implemented, unions charge non-union members “fair share” fees to help offset the union’s cost of providing collective bargaining services. HCPS is among the Maryland school systems where the fees were not in place prior to the passage of statewide legislation in 2013. Burbey said that the teachers’ union didn’t raise the issue this time due to the lack of step increases. He also cited a pending Supreme Court decision, Harris v. Quinn, which could strike down the fees.
The full text of the 2014-15 agreement is published below.