Compromise Rejection Will Have Major Impact

Compromise Rejection Will Have Major Impact

Much has been written about and heard from school system employees over the last month as a result of the Worcester County Commissioners cutting employees’ step adjustments and cost-of-living increases from the budget.

After that decision, the Worcester County Board of Education and the organizations representing teachers, support personnel and bus contractors hammered out a deal that’s not what was initially proposed to the County Commissioners. However, it’s close enough and should be viewed as a win for them. Teachers eligible will receive a one-step bump while those with 15 years of employment or more will receive a 1 percent COLA increase. Teachers three years behind in step increases will also receive a mid-year step increase. The initial proposal was an across-the-board, two-step increase and 2 percent COLA.

The school board’s decision is a result of 32 positions being eliminated, including 13 Education Assistants (EAs), 1.5 administrative jobs and 17.5 teacher positions currently held by retiring individuals that will not be refilled immediately. Thirteen EAs lost their jobs and that’s a stinger, while the other moves were essentially painless for the school system.

While the school system employees should be satisfied, there are the inevitable feelings of isolation among the general employees who received nothing this year. In fact, their take-home pay has decreased when health insurance and property and income tax increases are weighed.

In fiscal year 2015 budget, the current one, all county employees received a 2.5% step increase and a .5 percent COLA. In fiscal years 2014 and 2013, a 2 percent COLA was approved each year with no change in step. From fiscal year 2010 to 2012, there were no raises. In fiscal year 2009, a 2.5 percent step increase and 3.5 percent COLA were approved.

The difference for the next budget is the school system’s employees and the county’s general employees are now on a different track and rightly so there must be some agitation. It would seem logical for the county employees to consider some sort of organizing tactic after seeing what the teachers, support personnel and bus drivers were able to get through face-to-face negotiating.

We would hope they don’t but the county needs to understand this reality. It’s unfair for one group of employees to be treated different than another in a private company and the same goes in government.

The commissioners will have to give the general employees raises next year but how to achieve a middle ground between the school system employees and workers at the landfill and law enforcement, for example, will be challenging and planning needs to begin now.

All of this could have been avoided with a proposed and budgeted mid-year step compromise, which would have cost the county about $800,000 but was rejected by a majority of the commissioners prior to the school board crafting the plan announced this week.