The Montgomery County Board of Education approved an operating budget proposal totaling $476.4 million last night, an increase of almost 9 percent, and at the last minute included $630,000 so that new and recently hired teachers could earn an additional $1,400 a year by attending training workshops.
The $1,400 means that by attending a 10-day summer workshop and 10 training sessions during the year, the teachers to be hired for the next school year could raise their base pay from $17,187 to $18,597, under the budget proposal.
About 1,200 teachers, including those hired in the last two years, would be eligible to earn the additional money by voluntarily participating in the training sessions.
School board members offered last week to raise starting teacher salaries 16 percent to $20,000, but the offer was rejected by the Montgomery County Education Association, the union that represents the county's 6,400 teachers.
The salary offer would have mainly benefited new teachers or teachers with less than two years' experience, and the union argued that the raises should be given across the board to all teachers.
Two years ago the union negotiated a three-year contract with the board, and next year it is locked into a 3.7 percent pay raise for teachers.
Because of the contract with the union, the school board must have approval from the union before giving teachers a pay raise. At the time they made the offer, board members said they wanted to raise the starting salaries for teachers to be competitive with other area school systems.
School officials estimate that between 700 and 800 new teachers will have to be hired next year, many of them to accommodate a new wave of baby-boomers and others, to decrease class size.
Because the training program would be voluntary and school officials believe that not all the new teachers would elect to take it, money was budgeted for only 589 new teachers and 200 teachers with less than two years' experience. The plan provides for paying 389 teachers with more than two years' experience an additional $500 a year for attending similar training sessions.
Board members said last night the training program for new teachers is not a pay raise. "This is more pay for more work," said board President James Cronin.
"I don't think teachers would be angry because we are requiring more time while other jurisdictions are simply paying them the extra money." He added that last week's pay offer is still open.
Board member Blair Ewing said the training program "is a recognition that there is a real need to make sure new teachers have an opportunity to learn about the system."
Union President Mark Simon said he does not see the teacher training program as a way to get around the union contract. "It's important to provide a program of supports for newly hired teachers to get their feet on the ground before they meet the kids. This does that," Simon said. The union had favored a program of pairing new teachers with experienced teachers, which would have cost the school system $4 million, Simon said.
Of the new teachers, 120 would be provided for the 2,610 additional students expected to enter the elementary schools next fall.
Most of the enrollment growth is occurring in the rapidly developing Germantown-Gaithersburg area of northwest Montgomery. About $27 million of the $39.3 million budget increase would go toward hiring the new teachers, for the 3.7 percent raises and to maintain current services.
The remaining $12.3 million would be used to make improvements in school programs, among them hiring additional teachers and aides to lower class size at all levels, adding elementary school guidance counselors, offering more kindergarten classes and adding staff to work with handicapped and foreign students.
Board members spent most of the day and evening adding items to the budget that will be submitted to the County Council, which has until May 15 to approve a school spending program.