ANNAPOLIS -- The Anne Arundel County school board has voted to increase teachers' pay 5 percent, and raise starting salaries to $18,800, less than the $20,000 the teachers had requested.

Teachers had sought an 8 percent increase and a higher starting salary they said was needed to attract better instructors to the county.

County Executive O. James Lighthizer was angered by the school board's move. He had opposed the 8 percent increase, but favored higher pay for new teachers. Lighthizer called the school board's 6-to-2 vote for the lower starting level "the most obnoxious, wrong-headed, irresponsible decision I've seen a public body make since I've been county executive."

The beginning salary requested by the teachers would have made entry-level instructors the seventh highest paid among the first-year teachers in the 24 school jurisdictions around the state. The level approved on Wednesday is the 19th highest.

The 5 percent increase for current teachers will rise to 6 percent after the county council makes additional school board funds available later this year. The council had authorized the $20,000 starting salary but granted only a 6 percent raise for other teachers, prompting a work-to-rule action by teachers in many schools last semester.

School board members vetoed the higher starting salary, saying that it was unfair to give new teachers a salary increase of 19 percent while veteran teachers received only one-third of that.

School board and teachers' association officials said today they considered the proposed salary increases part of a total package, and that it was wrong to give the higher salaries to new teachers without giving a more substantial raise to veterans. "We felt the $20,000 salary was needed, but it was only fair if the pay scale went up by 8 percent," rather than 6 percent, said school board President Patricia Huecker.

Lighthizer said he believed the school board, by giving starting teachers a lower pay increase, was simply staging a childish protest over his refusal to give them the full raise teachers requested. "It's like the monkeys running the zoo," he said. "Who are the children and who are the adults here?"

Huecker said the reduced starting salary "is not going to be competitive with surrounding counties, but neither is our salary scale. We don't think starting teachers just look at the $18,800 they start with, but at the whole scale."

Teachers' association President Susie C. Jablinske, who supported the school board's decision, said, ". . . starting salaries are important for recruiting purposes, but only for first-year teachers. Twenty percent of last year's new hires were first-year teachers; 80 percent of last year's new hires were experienced teachers. So a front-end loading of the starting salary really doesn't impact on new hires as much as people would like to believe."