Montgomery County's 7,200 teachers, in what may be the final chapter in a bitter battle over teacher pay, will begin voting today on whether to accept a compromise contract that would boost salaries 6 percent the first year and 6.5 percent the second.
Teacher union representatives, in a 94-to-51 vote last night, recommended that teachers accept the findings of an independent mediator for a two-year contract, providing for an immediate 5 percent raise with an additional 2 percent increase midway in the school term.
The proposals must also be approved by the Board of Education. Board President Robert E. Shoenberg said he believed the board will agree to the mediator's recommendation.
Mark Simon, the teachers union president, said, "We don't think it is a good deal and we are not recommending it on this basis." He characterized the compromise as perhaps the best teachers can do in a year of "atrocious" negotiations.
In February, the teachers reached agreement with the school board for a three-year contract that would have increased pay 7 percent the first year and 6.5 percent in each of the two years afterward. The salary of a beginning teacher is now $25,661.
That contract fell victim to an election-year taxpayers revolt when the County Council refused to provide money for the raises, voting cuts in proposed school spending and opting instead for 5.2 percent teacher raises.
The school board, saying it was torn between making deep cuts in education programs or renegotiating its contract, decided to return to the bargaining table.
The board also renegotiated its contract with school support workers, but those 6,500 employees ended up with a contract that was nearly identical to the one ratified in February: 6 percent raises next year and 5.5 percent in each of the two years after that.
In the compromise proposed for the teachers, a two-year contract is offered. In addition to the smaller raise in the first year, they face reopened talks on health care costs that could mean higher premiums for teachers. Simon characterized the mood of teachers -- both those voting for and against the proposal -- as "discouraged."
Shoenberg said the board will wait until the teachers' voting is completed on Monday before acting. In addition to accepting the plan, the board must also figure out where it can find additional money to fund the salaries. The council provided funding for 5.2 percent raises and Shoenberg calculated that an additional $3 million will be needed.