By Timothy Dashiell
Teachers, their unions and school systems across the state are taking note of the deal to give Baltimore County gives teachers a raise as they consider their own local education systems.
Baltimore County’s $76 million compensation package plan looks to improve teacher pay and increase teacher retention rates, officials said.
Educators in other counties are weighing what Baltimore County’s pact could mean for them.
“What other counties do always has an impact, because we pull from the same job pool of candidates,” said Melissa Dirks, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association.
“Being competitive not just with other counties in the state of Maryland, but southern Pennsylvania and Northern Virginia is crucial, because we’re all competing for the same high-quality teachers.”
“We have been struggling for quite a while to hire and retain. Teachers can make significantly more if they go to Montgomery County, which touches our county or more if they go to Howard County, which also touches our county border. This has been a significant issue for a long time.”
In May, Montgomery County Public Schools gave their staff a 6% increase in salaries, citing the raise as an effort to help attract new staff and retain current teachers.
In Anne Arundel County, the Baltimore County pact is particularly significant.
“We are preparing to begin our negotiations in a few weeks,” said Nicole Disney-Bates, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.
“We are prepared to continue to have conversations with the superintendent, board of education members, county council, county executive and the community at large as to the best ways to continue to attract and retain teachers in Anne Arundel County.”
Baltimore County teachers paid close attention to other counties’ pay scales and working conditions during their months-long negotiations. They knew they wanted salaries comparable to the counties that were luring their teachers away, said Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.
“We know people are leaving Baltimore County,” Sexton said.“Teachers are looking and saying, ‘Oh, I can make more in Howard [County],’ and then potentially going there.”
The new compensation package includes a 3% cost-of-living pay increase for all staff members, mid-year step increases, retention bonuses for all staff and additional bonuses for the school employees with 30 or more years of service.
During a news conference last week to announce the agreement, Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) said retaining teachers was an impetus for the agreement now.
“Education has been and will continue to be our top priority in Baltimore County,” Olszewski said. ”I am proud that we were able to come together to announce well-deserved pay raises for our hardworking educators and support employees.”
Teacher retention is a major concern for Maryland school systems. In the last academic school year, 9.1% of Maryland teachers left the profession, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
Some counties reported having as many as 400 open positions as the school year was scheduled to begin.
The state has taken measures to ensure that an adequate number of teachers remain.
In July, the state board of education approved a measure that would allow more than 3,000 educators to continue teaching with a conditional teacher certificate for another two years as long as the teachers meet certain other requirements.
Teachers have continued to voice concern regarding salaries, working conditions and overall teacher workload.
“Teachers have been the public punching bag for decades.” Dirks said “All this frustration happens when you treat people like they don’t matter and that they should be servants when in fact, they’re highly trained professionals.”
The situation in Maryland is reflected across the country. Other states have also sought to increase pay to retain their teachers. Alabama lawmakers, for example, passed a series of measures aimed at providing significant bonuses and financial incentives.
Some states have taken dramatic measures to ensure that there are enough educators.
In Texas and Arkansas, school districts have decided to embrace four-day school weeks to save on operations and staffing costs.