Delay prompted by $17 million gap
The Montgomery County Council approved its 2003-2004 budget on May 15. The Council's allocation to MCPS for the next school year fell $17 million short of the MCPS Board of Education's (BOE) request. To close the gap, the BOE will most likely break its contract with teachers and delay payment of negotiated raises by five months.
In 2000, MCPS signed a three-year contract with teachers promising an annual five percent cost of living benefit increase each year, according to the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), the MCPS teachers union.
In its budget for next year, the County Council proposed giving MCPS teachers a one percent pay raise starting July 1, 2003 because of two additional school days added to the upcoming school year; the remaining four percent will be given starting around Dec 12, according to MCEA President Mark Simon. Delaying the pay raises by five months will save the county $14 million, said Simon.
The BOE will discuss the teacher raise delays at its June 10 meeting and will decide by July 1 on exactly how long the delay will be, according to Marshall Spatz, head of the MCPS' budget department.
Teachers will vote on May 26 about whether to accept the delay in raises, according to Simon. If the majority of teachers vote against the delay, the BOE may have to come up with $14 million to pay the raises on time, Simon said.
Simon called the breach of contract a "tragedy" but noted that MCEA is willing to accept the delay in raises due to the severity of Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich, Jr.'s cuts from Montgomery County funding. "I do not think there is any justification for reneging on contracts. However, the governor has cut so much from county funding that MCPS teachers are willing to make this contribution," Simon said.
Blair social studies teacher George Vlasits believes breaking the contract with teachers damages MCPS' credibility. "Why should we bargain with MCPS if we can't trust them to fulfill their end of the contract?" Vlasits asked.
The teachers' pay cut is one of many cuts the County Council is making due to the stagnant economy, explained County Council Spokesperson Patrick Lacefield. "This is a situation where there is going to be a lot of pain in the county, and the compensation changes for MCPS teachers are part of that pain," said Lacefield.
The budget shortfall's immediate impact on Blair will be a freeze in funding for purchasing new textbooks and media center supplies, according to Gainous.
The severity of the county budget crisis caused MCPS to cut "big money" to make ends meet, said Principal Phillip Gainous. Since staff salaries and benefits make up nearly 90 percent of MCPS' operating budget, the county delayed paying the promised raises to balance the budget.
This year, the BOE asked for $1.5 billion for the next school year, $106 million more than the amount it received last year.
The change is caused by both a 2,000-student increase in enrollment and rising wages, salaries and employee benefits for MCPS staff, said Spatz.
To bridge the $17 million gap, the County Council also proposed cutting three million dollars overall from MCPS programs, according to Spatz.
On May 15, the County Council approved a $3 billion budget for next year that included raising income, energy and phone taxes to increase revenue.
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