Harford County Public Schools officials announced late Wednesday they have reached a tentative settlement with the county's teachers union on receipt of a bonus payment offered by Harford County Executive David Craig that the union's leadership had previously refused to accept.
The accord means some 3,200 teachers represented by the Harford County Education Association, HCEA, will be able to receive the one-time, $625 bonus payment, provided the amendment to the teachers' contract is approved by the union members and then the funding for the payment is approved by Craig and the Harford County Council.
"It is my hope that this tentative agreement will be ratified quickly to allow our teachers to finally receive the county bonus funding that they rightfully deserve," Superintendent Robert M. Tomback said in a news release issued Wednesday evening. "I am truly pleased that HCEA agreed to tentatively accept the Board's offer to disburse the one-time funds to our teachers."
Craig heard from Tomback on Tuesday that the board was in talks with the HCEA on the agreement, but by Thursday morning he hadn't heard about an agreement. Once he heard from them, the executive said, he could begin to prepare legislation to present to the county council.
Craig issued a statement late Thursday about the agreement between the school board and the teachers' union.
"I am pleased that the leadership of the Harford County Education Association and the Board of Education of Harford County has come to a tentative agreement regarding the proposed one-time pay bonus to school teachers which I proposed last year. However, it is regrettable that an agreement could not be reached between these parties last month to allow teachers to receive the first half of the proposed pay bonus for the holidays," Craig said in the statement. "As I stated when I first announced the legislation to the County Council for this one-time pay bonus, this was not a pay raise for teachers, county employees, personnel of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, Harford County Library employees or others who qualified for this pay bonus. This is one-time money which the Administration and County Council had agreed to support for our dedicated employees. Without question I believe Harford County Public School teachers are most deserving of this one-time bonus as well."
Craig said that the earliest the legislation could be introduced at a county council meeting would be Feb. 14, as long as Tomback and Cerveny met with him first. The public hearing on the legislation could then be no sooner than March 6, when the council could either vote on it or delay a decision.
According to the school system's news release, the school board and the HCEA reached a tentative agreement to amend the union's 2011-12 contract with the school system to accept the bonus.
This contract has been a sticking point between the union leadership and the school system, because Craig and the Harford County Council refused last spring to allocate enough money to the school system to fund 3 percent raises and other salary enhancements that the teachers union and four other school employee unions had agreed to with the school board.
The teachers union's contract is the subject of a binding arbitration proceeding filed under a state collective bargaining law affecting teachers. A finding by the arbitration board is expected in the coming weeks.
Randy Cerveny, president of the HCEA, said Thursday he was "happy that we could get some money for the teachers."
HCEA members still need to vote on the agreement, he added, which should happen in the next couple weeks.
The members he has heard from are also happy about the possibility of receiving the bonus, but are also concerned how it could affect current negotiations. Cerveny said, however, the agreement would have no effect on contract negotiations.
Where the bigger problems lies, he continued, is funding in general for Harford County Public Schools, and not only for teachers.
"Funding has remained pretty stagnant in our county for a number of years," Cerveny said. "So much good education is tied to the well being of the community."
He added that while teaching positions haven't been cut, those who support teachers are.
"Teachers are being asked to do more than they have done before," Cerveny said. "Unless they have those supports, the students are going to be the ones who end up suffering."
In late October, Craig announced he planned to give a $1,250, one-time bonus to all county and school employees in two installments, one in December and the other in June, with the money to come from a $30 million surplus in the county's 2011 budget.
The county council modified the plan to allow for the first installment to be paid, while the second would be subject to further council review this spring before it could be paid.
Legislation was enacted to pay the first installment as planned, but then Craig vetoed it in December after he learned the teachers union had refused to agree to accept the money on the grounds that the money should be subject to renegotiation on the stalled 2011-12 contract.
Craig said at the time that the union had reneged on a pledge to accept the money as offered by the county and was instead using the offer as a ploy to reopen talks on its stalled 2011 contract. The county council did not even consider overriding Craig's veto.
Meanwhile, all county employees and the school system's other 2,000 employees received the $625 bonus in December, with Craig also saying he would still consider making the payment to the teachers, if the unions agreed to accept it as the county had requested, a one-time payment not tied to future salary scales.
According to Wednesday's school system news release, under the amendment to the HCEA contract, "upon ratification by both parties, the bonus monies will be disbursed two weeks following the successful appropriation of funds by the county."
The county council will also consider funding for the second installment of the $1,250 bonus later this spring. If approved, the second $625 payment would be disbursed in June.