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COUNTY INKS TEACHERS’ CONTRACTS

(March 22, 2013) The Worcester County Board of Education signed its FY14 contracts with the Worcester County Teachers Association and the Worcester County Educational Support Personnel Association this week, finalizing the negotiated agreement to continue the partial restoration of school staffers’ lost pay raises from the 2009-2012 wage freeze.

“After a very tense month, we came to a table agreement,” Assistant Superintendent for Administration Lou Taylor, who also serves as the administration’s chief negotiator, said at this week’s board meeting.

The ratified agreement will allow the schools to grant step-scale pay raises, based on experience, to eligible staff. In Wor-cester County, teachers’ pay scales are divided into 16 steps, each equating roughly to one year of experience. After step 16, pay increases cease to be structured. For non-teacher support staff, a 12-step scale is used.

For staff beyond the step-scale, a 1.5 percent raise will be granted. The funding also allows for a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment [COLA] for all employees in addition to their experience increase.

When the worldwide financial crisis hit at the end of 2008, local governments were already into the 2009 fiscal year’s budget, which began that July. For the three budget periods after that – fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012 – Worcester County enforced, as did many jurisdictions, a wide-scale pay freeze.

Only in this past fiscal year 2013, whose budget was decided on last spring, did the county grant a $1.2 million allocation for teacher pay increases, although the board had requested $1.9 million. This was largely offset, however, by a drop in per-pupil funding of more than $850,000 for FY13 because of decreased enrollment.

Although quasi-independent from the rest of the county government, Worcester’s school system receives about 80 percent of its revenue from appropriations by the county commissioners, who have final authority over its budget and have traditionally maintained a neutral level of funding based on the school system’s total enrollment.

“We recognize that you are not the final funding authority, and that you have to come together to craft a salary package that is amenable [to the county as a whole],” WCTA President and chief negotiator Helen Schoffstall told the board this week.

The schools’ budget for the upcoming 2014 fiscal year will be requesting another increase of $1.5 million from the county. Most of this will be to fund staff salaries, although the budget also allows for a number of purchases for software and classroom technology. Savings are also present, mainly in materials costs.

“I feel that we have a commitment from the board to continue and not go back [in terms of funding],” Schoffstall said. “Obviously, we would’ve liked to have made up some steps, but we’ve gained ground. The COLAs have been a help, and I think the teachers know that and appreciate it.”

Schoffstall also assured the board that, now that negotiations were finished, the teacher’s union would be lobbying the county not just for their owner salaries, but for the needs of the entire system.

“After the negotiation, we’ve always closed ranks,” she said. “We’ve always fought, after the negotiations, to fund the entire budget. We’ve never said, ‘just pay for the salaries, we don’t care about the rest.’”

Schoffstall will also be retiring at the end of this school year.

“As an employee, I’ve watched Helen work, and her professionalism will truly be missed,” Taylor said.

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