The Montgomery County Board of Education's approval Tuesday of a $630,000 proposal to compensate new teachers for attending training workshops was assailed yesterday by a member of the County Council, who called it a poorly disguised salary increase.
In an interview, council member Rose Crenca said the proposal was devised by board members to "salve their conscience" about the wider problem of making teachers' pay competitive with other jurisdictions.
Montgomery's starting salaries are the second lowest in the metropolitan area.
"I don't think too many people are going to be fooled by this," said Crenca. "I don't see it as anything but a gimmick . . . to give beginning teachers more money."
However, two council members said they thought the training stipend was probably a good idea. Two other members of the seven-person council said they had not had time to study the proposal.
Late Tuesday night, the county Board of Education approved a $476.4 million budget for the fiscal year starting in July that calls for a 9 percent increase in spending over the current year. Board members said the additional $39.3 million is needed in part to hire new teachers to help cope with a second major wave of baby boomers entering elementary school and to reduce class size.
The County Council will get the school budget proposal March 3 and has until May 15 to approve it.
Before taking a final vote Tuesday, the school board agreed to adopt Superintendent Wilmer S. Cody's proposal to add $630,000 for the training of 600 teachers.
School officials said that by fall they will have to hire more than 800 new teachers, about 600 of whom are expected to participate in the voluntary training.
For attending a 10-day workshop during the summer and 10 training sessions during the school year, new teachers with less than two years' experience would earn stipends of $1,410. New teachers with more than two years of experience would be eligible for $500 stipends for attending 10 training sessions during the year. The base annual pay of beginning teachers with no experience would jump from $17,187 to $18,597 as a result of participating in the training.
The Board of Education recently offered the teachers union a 16 percent raise in the starting pay for new teachers -- bringing those annual salaries to $20,000 -- and smaller raises for teachers with less than four years' experience. But the teachers union, the Montgomery County Education Association, rejected the offer, saying it wanted an across-the-board pay raise for all 6,400 teachers.
Board members denied that the training stipend is a pay raise in disguise. But Crenca said of the school board, "I think it's always great to train teachers, but that's just a gimmick they've hit upon to salve their conscience. If teachers needed this training, why didn't the board hit on this before?"
However, council member David Scull said, "I assume the training has value on its own . . . . But if the result is a more attractive starting salary also, that's worthwhile."
Council member Neal Potter said he has no initial reservations about the training plan. "I would favor anything the Board of Education can do to make our salary offers more inviting to good new teachers," he said.
Union President Mark Simon said that while he is not opposed to the concept of training for new teachers, he does have "some real problems with this proposal."
He said that during the last week the union and board negotiators have been bargaining over new teacher training. Simon said the union favors a mentor-teacher program in which experienced teachers would be paid to train new teachers. The plan would cost about $4 million, he said.
The board members are trying to "unilaterally implement a program along the same lines as the program they are simultaneously negotiating with us on," Simon said. "That's bad-faith bargaining."