Board of Education and Commissioners talk teacher salary negotiations; approve budget

Leonardtown, MD - At their semi-annual joint convention on June 18, the St. Mary’s Board of County Commissioners(BOCC) and Board of Education(BOE) sat down together for what could only be described as a successful meeting. The hour and a half long session addressed everything from a briefing and update on the BOE capital improvement projects for the next five fiscal years, all the way to funding results for the Other Post Employment Benefits(OPEB) program.

Arguably the most notable highlight of the meeting could likely be considered the authorization and approval of the BOE’s FY2020 operating budget. Following what Commissioner Todd Morgan[R-District 4] called a “contentious meeting to raise taxes” in the coming years, the resolution of which has now allowed for a nearly $2.4 million increase in funding to education, or around a 2.3 percent increase from FY2019.

With a motion from Commissioner Eric Colvin[R-District 1] and a second from Morgan, the commissioners unanimously approved the total funding to the BOE in the amount of $106,242,921, which will ultimately make up 41.97 percent of the counties entire budget that is just over $253 million.

However, another important topic discussed during the joint session was the impending salary negotiations between the county and the local teachers union known as the Education Association of St. Mary’s County(EASMC). St. Mary’s County Public Schools(SMCPS) Superintendent, Dr. Scott Smith, lauded the commissioners on their successful efforts to fulfill the terms of their previous four-year agreement with the collective bargaining agency that is comprised of over 2,100 members, a feat never before completed.

“Because of the funding, you provided… we were able to fund the final year of a four-year agreement, that is a historic thing for SMCPS,” Scott said. “We have not had a four-year agreement in my memory, and we haven’t been able to honor a four-year or often times a three-year agreement because things happen, because costs come up, because the world changes every single year. Every single year, we have been able to honor the negotiated agreement and pay staff… That is why people come to St. Mary’s County to teach and to work, and that’s why people stay in St. Mary’s County.”

Additionally, Scott pointed out how St. Mary’s County teachers stay working in the county for an average of 14 years, far outpacing both the state and national average. That being said, salary levels of teachers in the long-run when compared to neighboring Calvert and Charles counties show that St. Mary’s County is still a few steps behind. Although St. Mary’s offers a more competitive starting salary for teachers in comparison, they tend to fall off the wagon as-early-as five years in.

Negotiations for upcoming salary changes will likely be impacted by the Kirwan Commission, however, the impact is hard to determine at this point in time. The board has said that the expected changes will likely have the greatest influence on starting salary.

The negotiation team for the upcoming EASMC contract renewal, who is comprised of Dale Farrell, Ed Law, Tammy McCourt and Jeff Walker, all four who were were selected by the BOE, will begin their negotiations around October this year. However, BOE Chair Karin Bailey says that these negotiations will likely not be completed in time for the first BOE Budget. It can also be noted that the county only has one year remaining on its contract with the collective bargaining group for administrators and supervisors know as SMASA.

The next meeting between the St. Mary’s County BOE and BOCC has been tentatively set in the distant future for Dec. 3.

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