Teachers get their pay raise

(June 19, 2015) Public school teachers and support staff will be getting an increase in pay in the new fiscal year, following the Worcester County Board of Education’s decision Wednesday to shift $1.9 million from other areas of its budget to cover the unbudgeted expense.

Despite some post-decision celebrating by beneficiaries of the board’s action, the maneuver did come with a cost: 13 education assistants were cut and other positions will not be filled.

A total of 32 positions were eliminated in the deal, but the bulk of those — 19 in all — are coming from retirements or resignations according to schools’ spokeswoman Barb Witherow. The cuts include 1.5 administrator positions and 17.5 teacher jobs. 

“Each of these 32 jobs directly supported a student’s education,” said Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson. “Their losses affect our community and mean fewer resources for students, but we have been determined to pay our employees.”

Salaries for Worcester County teachers have slipped from 11th to 16th in the state over the past couple years, are below the state average and teachers have received only a half percent increase in their salary for six consecutive years, according to Vince Tolbert, the school board’s chief financial officer.

The $102 million operating budget proposed to the Worcester County Commissioners was $4 million more than last year’s total and included salary increases for teachers and staff.

The county commissioners, however, denied that request, when they adopted a maintenance of effort budget on June 2 with only an increase for health insurance costs. Maintenance of effort is a state law requiring counties to spend an equal amount per pupil year over year to prevent them from slashing school funding and balancing their budgets by diverting that money to other areas.

The county contributed $78.6 million to schools for the current fiscal year and allocated $79.1 million for the schools for fiscal year 2016.

In response to the county’s decision not to budget the pay increases, teachers in each of the county’s 14 schools organized and executed a “work to rule” protest. A petition calling for the implementation of the increases also was started by Stephen Decatur High School students and gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

Subsequently, members of the school board, the Worcester County Teachers Association and the Worcester County Education Support Personnel Association had to negotiate a new agreement.

The new terms, based on the $98.9 million education budget the commissioners approved, provides either one step for employees or a one percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) if an employee is not eligible for a step.

In addition, employees who, due to skipped pay scale steps in 2010, 2011 and 2012, have three years more work experience than their current salary step, will also receive a one-step increase mid-year. Bus contractors will receive a similar rate increases.

 “We have been forced into a terrible dilemma and made some difficult decisions,” said Board President Robert Rothermel.

Beth Shockley-Lynch, president of the Worcester County Teacher’s Association, surveyed teachers in the county and more than 97 percent of her membership approved the new agreement.

“It’s been a tough year, but you have given us a happy ending and we thank you,” she told the board after the vote.

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