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UPPER MARLBORO — After years of low pay in comparison to other jurisdictions, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Interim CEO Monica Goldson announced a plan to restore employee salaries on May 13.

“For the last decade, PGCPS has been slowly recovering from one of the worst economic recessions in the nation’s history,” Goldson said. “As many of you well know, our community was slower to recover compared to neighboring jurisdictions.”

According to Goldson, numerous cost-saving strategies were implemented during that time, including a freeze on employee salaries from 2009 to 2012, which impacted teachers, administrators, bus drivers, school nurses and custodians.

“We had literally 2,900 employees who were part of our 2,250 bargaining unit who were impacted the most who lost three steps during the 2010-2012 timeframe,” Goldson said during a press conference on May 13 where she announced the plan. “And so all of our employees were impacted, but they are our support staff, they are the ones who felt it the most.”

Board of Education Chair Alvin Thornton added that all PGCPS employees were hurt as a result of the “avoidable development” and hard-working teachers lost deserved compensation steps.

“In recognition of the workforce’s sacrifices, today I proposed a restorative salary increase to all employees who lost steps during the downturn yet remained with the school system,” Goldson said. “Today’s action is a step forward in recruiting and retaining the best employees to serve our students and families.”

The salary restoration will go to teachers, principals and support staff who were frozen during the economic recession but have remained within the school system for the last 10 years.

Eligible employees will receive a restorative salary increase over the next three years and will receive, in total, a three percent salary increase in addition to any current negotiations.

The plan will be funded by state funding from the Kirwan Commission and about $20 million in budget cuts from all over PGCPS, none of which will affect classroom resources. It will cost about $16 million annually for the next two years and $15 million in the third year.

Overall, about 8,300 employees are eligible for the restorative salary increase, including 3,500 teachers and 3,650 support staff.

Days prior to the announcement, teachers from across the county participated in a Teacher Un-Appreciation Day protest, organized by the Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA), where one of the issues they were trying to raise awareness of was their low salaries.

“I have 15 years in this county, 20 in education, so in 10 years I can retire if I want to,” said PGCEA Member and Kenmoor Early Childhood Center teacher Michele Clarke at the protest. “If these steps are not made up and we continue to get steps going forward at the same rate, I will never max out at step 20 in 30 years working as an educator…With the extra money coming in from the state, it’s inexcusable for the county to let us languish.”

PGCEA President Theresa Dudley said the salary restoration plan is a good idea for people who missed out on pay for the last several years, but the real issue is the negotiation for salary increases beyond this three-year plan.

“It sounds great, but the devil is in the details,” she said. “We have to figure out exactly what it means because there are some people who are at the top of the scale who missed out on those three years. There isn’t really another step that they can go to on our salary scale to make up for it whereas people who are at step 13, there is enough steps to make up for the steps that they missed.”

Teachers in PGCPS are eligible to reach up to 20 steps in the pay scale, but Dudley described how if someone is already “on step 20 and they give everybody a step next year, there isn’t a second step they can give.”

“The scale is only going to go up to 20 so how we figure out how we make those people whole is a conversation that we’re having right now. So if you’re going to give those steps to people on the lower end of the pay scale, and when I say lower like those 13-step people, you’ve got to give it to the people who suffered the most who went the longest period of time without getting steps.”

PGCPS created a Task Force on Employee Compensation this school year. Their final report is expected to provide compensation information in comparison to other jurisdictions and inform the board of education on these kinds of decisions going forward, Thornton said.

He emphasized the need to act responsibly and transparently on the part of the board of education as they continue discussing matters such as compensation.

“The decisions we must make will be difficult because our school system has many competing funding needs,” Thornton said. “This phase is not the last one. Soon we will enter the next one where we will need to continue working together to secure adequate and equitable funding for our public school system and our children, fully addressing legacy and current compensation needs, within a shared system of accountability and transparency to the public.”

However, according to Dudley, the PGCEA is still working on negotiations with the school board at this time. She also wondered how the salary restoration plan and the Task Force on Employee Compensation will factor into negotiations to put the teachers on par with other jurisdictions, especially since the PGCEA was not given a copy of the Task Force’s report to aid in negotiation.

“The main thing is we are still negotiating our contract, and we want our members to be made whole over the next three years for the steps that they lost, and we want a realistic pay scale that allows everybody who has lost these steps to receive what they lost,” Dudley said. “That’s the most important thing. There have to be some creative things done to make sure everybody is made whole.”

The Prince George’s County Council released a statement lending their support to the school system for taking such a critical step in addressing the issue.

“The council welcomes Dr. Goldson’s efforts to address this long-standing issue for dedicated school employees who have continued to serve the system and its students, despite fiscal challenges.”

Going forward, the council will conduct a fiscal impact analysis of the salary step restoration proposal on the Board of Education Budget.

“We want to make sure that our children know that they are a priority and that we’re going to give everything we can every single day to make sure that our focus remains on the schoolhouse and the only way to do that is for us today to move forward,” Goldson said.

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