Howard County administrators and principals were rebuffed last week when the county Board of Education rejected their request to reopen contract negotiations.

Administrators are unhappy about their three-year contract, ratified in March by the board after negotiations with the Howard County Education Association, which represents both teachers and administrators.

The new pay package for administrators, principals and other non-teaching administrative staff will result in annual increases of 2 to 5 percent. Teachers, meanwhile, will be receiving 6 to 8 percent increases. This was the first year the two groups negotiated separate pay scales.

"Some administrators will be receiving {increases of} 2 percent, which is almost punitive," said David Bruzga, principal of Hammond High School and president of the Howard County Secondary School Administrators' Association.

"Many administrators and supervisors were surprised and upset" by the salary package, he said. "It has really hurt our morale."

Board members moved to slow the rise of administrative salaries because they felt some administrators had received pay increases that were pushing overall salary levels too high, said Patti Vierkant, a board spokeswoman.

"The county will not be always enjoying the kind of budget that it has had in recent years," Vierkant said. "The board felt it ought to take a hard look" at administrators' pay.

Board members were reluctant to reopen negotiations, she said.

"The board felt that it would set a dangerous precedent. It would undermine the integrity of the collective bargaining process," she said.

Bruzga could not say how his association will respond to the decision until administrators meet this month to elect officers. He said there has been no talk of seeking another union to represent them.

"We feel that Howard County schools are among the best in the country," he said. "We feel that our pay should be comparable to that paid in other excellent systems nationwide."