Prince George’s County interim schools chief Monica Goldson chats with fifth graders at Tulip Grove Elementary School in Bowie, Md., in 2018. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Prince George’s County interim schools chief Monica Goldson unveiled a plan Tuesday to give school employees $46.5 million in raises they missed in the aftermath of the recession, a major step toward ending a bitter dispute between the teachers’ union and Goldson’s predecessor.

Goldson said the pay hikes would be spread over three years, and would be in addition to regular step increases negotiated by the teacher’s union. The first year’s funding would come from cuts to central office spending that Goldson has identified; funding the second and third years could require program cuts, she said.

Prince George’s teachers have received yearly raises since 2013, but then-county executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and his schools chief, Kevin M. Maxwell, said the county could not afford to also restore increases that were skipped from 2010 through 2012.

Dozens of teachers walked out in protest of Baker, then a gubernatorial candidate, at a Maryland State Education Association conference in 2017. The union’s decision to vocally back Ben Jealous, and to oppose Baker, was a key factor in Jealous emerging from a crowded field to capture the Democratic nomination.

“I knew that the restoration of steps for all employees was a topic that needed to be placed on the front-burner,” said Goldson, who succeeded Maxwell after the teachers’ union and others demanded his ouster. “We’ve made progress in improving morale, but I knew this was an issue that lingered.”

Then-gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous (D), center, stands with Theresa Dudley, Prince George’s County Education Association right, and Simone Malloy, union rep at Laurel High School, left, to talk about infrastructure issues in Prince George’s public schools in September 2018. (Andre Chung/For The Washington Post)

The union has made securing the raises a top priority, turning out at town hall meetings on the county budget wearing red union T-shirts and carrying cardboard signs charting their missed wages.

At a county council hearing last week that fell on National Teacher Appreciation Day, Prince George’s County Education Association President Theresa Dudley pleaded for more funding for raises while teachers outside the room posed with signs that read: “This is what an unappreciated teacher looks like.”

Dudley said Tuesday that she was “pleased” with Goldson’s proposal and looked forward to negotiating the teachers’ next contract Wednesday.

“We may not always agree on everything, but she is accessible and has been transparent about what is going on,” Dudley said of Goldson.

With the economy having rebounded, other jurisdictions, including Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties, are also moving this year to restore raises to employees who did not receive them in the economic downturn.

Goldson said she has identified $19.3 million in cuts to central office spending, including eliminating some long-vacant positions, to fund the raises this year. She said she will try to find cuts in future years that do not affect classrooms.

Officials in Prince George’s have long said that salary is one of the biggest impediments to recruiting and retaining the best teachers. The average annual salary of a Prince George’s teacher with a college degree was $69,439 in 2018, compared to $81,791 in neighboring Montgomery County, according to a report by the Washington Area Boards of Education. Starting salary was $47,781, compared with $49,013 in Montgomery.

“If those who are closest to the children are not adequately compensated, it hurts them, it hurts our children and it hurts our communities,” said Alvin Thornton, chair of the Prince George’s Board of Education. “This is an issue of critical importance.”

Thornton said he supports Goldson’s plan and is hopeful that the teacher’s union will accept it.

About 53 percent of teachers employed by the system were affected by the missed raises, according to the school system. Among members of AFSCME Local 2250 — which represents support staff, including bus drivers and custodians — 65 percent of members did not receive raises from 2010 to 2012.

Goldson said restoring the increases over a span of three years was the “fiscally responsible” thing to do.

“It didn’t happen overnight, and we won’t be able to give the steps back all at once,” she said in an interview.

During a news conference Tuesday, she addressed all school employees, saying: “I heard you. You matter. Your voice matters.”

Teacher steps are generally 3 percent, so a teacher who missed steps could in one year receive a 6 percent raise, plus a cost-of-living adjustment, depending on their contract.

Restoring the first missed step in fiscal year 2020 will cost $15,791,866, according to the school system, with $7,790,946 going to teachers. The cost of restoring the steps in fiscal year 2021 and 2022 will be $15,735,263 and $14,973,242, respectively.

First-year County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks calls education the top priority of her administration and has said at town halls that she will fight to make sure teachers are paid what they deserve.

Alsobrooks proposed allocating $2.09 billion for education spending in her $4.2 billion budget, a 2.2 percent increase from last year but less than the $2.11 billion that the school board requested. The council must approve the budget by June 1.

Prince George’s will benefit from up to $53 million in state funding from an educational plan adopted by the state legislature this year, known as the Kirwan Commission. Included in that funding is $13.3 million that the state will put toward teaching salaries if the school system gives teachers a 3 percent raise.

Alsobrooks’s office said Monday that it will soon launch a search for a permanent chief executive of the school system, which is the second-largest in Maryland, with 130,800 students.

Goldson has worked in the school system for 28 years and won praise from county officials for being a steady hand following Maxwell’s rocky tenure. She has told Alsobrooks she would like to be considered for the permanent position.