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Salary lag front-and-center issue for ‘16 school budget

(March 27, 2015) By increasing their commute, Worcester County teachers could earn more money in neighboring counties immediately.

That was the reality presented by Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson during the Board of Education’s budget hearing on Tuesday.

Board of Education employees in the county are on a step program for raises. With each year of experience or certification earned, the employees should move one step annually. Employees starting with more advanced degrees move along a different step scale.

A teacher with a bachelor’s degree, for example, starts at $43,494 while one with a master’s degree plus 30 graduate-level credits earns $50,258 during the first year. There are a number of modifiers to this arrangement, such as level of responsibility and longevity.

“Teachers could go to another system and get a step, but a teacher moving into Worcester would not,” Wilson said, pending the Worcester County Commissioners’ budget decision.

Steps were not granted during fiscal 2010, 2011 and 2012 in Worcester County, while they were awarded in neighboring counties.

Consequently, a Worcester County teacher with 10 years of experience is currently being paid for only 7 years according to the steps and past budgeting decisions. However, if that same teacher went to a neighboring county, he or she would get credit for the full 10 years immediately.

So far, “fewer than 10” teachers had availed themselves of the option, Wilson said, but the clock is ticking and the potential exists.

“With five years’ experience, you have the opportunity to make $7,000 more in an area 15 minutes away. We need to keep the good teachers we have. We can’t lose any more,” Beth Shockley-Lynch, president of the Worcester County Teachers Association, said.

Wilson said the schools are doing their part. A number of employees have been offered early retirement and he expects to lose an estimated 40 positions to attrition.

“There are some we must have, but they are all being reviewed. There may be as many as 25-30 percent we’re not hiring for,” Wilson said.

Commissioner Ted Elder asked how much the schools could save by resetting the steps of retiring employees to new hires.

Schools CFO Vince Tolbert said as much as $30,000 per position, but those savings won’t be realized until fiscal 2017 since the payouts from employees offered early retirement will hit the budget this year.

The schools are seeking an extra $4.1 million in their budget to restore the steps and add a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment.

Wilson cited a study done by Salisbury University’s BEACON, which granted that for $97 million invested into schools, $211 million was returned to the county.

“Our most important relationship is with you for our children,” Wilson said to the commissioners, “We have two priorities: Continuing the high level of achievement and salaries.”

Wilson said compensation and benefits take up 84.4 percent his budget, with another 5.8 percent going to the bus drivers.

In the joint letter to the commissioners, Board of Education President Bob Rothermel and Dr. Wilson said “over the last six years, wage increases have reflected only three years of service, not the six completed.

“Further, Worcester County’s cost-of-living increases provided over the same period have only risen .5 percent while in the past year alone the cost of living increased by 1.7 percent. During the same six-year period, the cost of living increased by 8.5 percent for social security recipients on a fixed income.”

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