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Lower salaries drive teachers out of Frederick Co.

Sunday - 2/26/2012, 2:00am  ET

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Patty Madert works with fifth-graders Friday morning at Kemptown Elementary, where she has taught for the past 10 years. (Frederick News-Post/Bill Greene)

Patty Madert has a master's degree in early childhood education from Johns Hopkins University and has been teaching at Kemptown Elementary School for 10 years.

The fifth-grade teacher thinks it might be time for a change, but she doesn't want to opt for another Frederick County school.

Instead, Madert said she must consider leaving for a neighboring county.

Madert's husband recently lost his job and went into business for himself. Beginning this fall, she will have three children attending college.

Frederick County Public Schools employees are staring at a fourth year without a pay increase of any kind.

"It's extremely difficult," Madert said. "Nobody wants to start over in another job. I would hate to leave and I hope it doesn't come to that."

After a vote by the Frederick County Board of Education on Wednesday, school system employees are actually looking at a .5 percent pay cut in fiscal 2013, according to Gary Brennan, president of the Frederick County Teachers Association.

Superintendent Terry Alban's proposed salary resource pool of $10.8 million to fund raises for all school system employees has been whittled down to $5.1 million.

That $5.1 million is offset by the reversal of a 1.5 percent salary adjustment totaling $4.4 million in fiscal 2012 -- a one-time stipend. Depending on negotiations with the union, the budget also includes furlough days worth $1.5 million, Brennan said.

"At this point the salary resource pool stands at almost negative $1 million," he said.

Frederick County ranks in the bottom half of the state for teacher salaries, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.

A first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree and a standard professional certificate can expect to earn $40,706 in Frederick, good enough for 22nd of 24 school systems in the state. A teacher with a master's degree at step one in the pay scale can expect to earn $43,963, ranking the county 17th statewide.

Alban said she looks at that data and worries about the long-term consequences.

"I want FCPS to be able to recruit the best and brightest of the young talent and I want our veteran teachers to feel valued and appreciated so that they stay," she wrote in an email. "Every outstanding teacher we lose or are unable to hire can mean thousands of students lose out over that teacher's career span."

Madert is paid $56,122 a year, according to school system salary documents.

"To me, that's not a competitive salary," she said.

At that same level in Montgomery or Washington counties, she could be earning $76,148 or $56,402, respectively.

Fiscal 2013 outlook

The school board approved a $515,104,568 balanced budget Wednesday for the Board of County Commissioners.

The school board rejected proposals to increase middle and high school class sizes by one student, a projected $2.5 million savings, and request an additional $3.2 million from the commissioners.

Both cuts were pulled from Alban's proposed salary resource pool.

Alban called the board's decision to cut the pool a painful one.

"My budget included some painful items, particularly increasing class size," she said. "I know how hard it was for the BoE to choose between the salary resource pool and class size. Both are critical, yet we could not afford both -- at least at this point in time."

While employees may not see any pay increases next year, their counterparts in Carroll, Montgomery and Washington counties could be seeing bigger paychecks.

Montgomery County Public Schools employees have not received a cost-of-living adjustment for three years and have seen no step increase over the last two years, according to school system spokesman Dana Tofig.

But the Montgomery County Board of Education recently passed a budget request to the County Council that includes $20 million in reserve, to be used to compensate employees, Tofig said.

Whether it is a step increase or another form of salary increase depends on ongoing negotiations, he said.

All Washington County Public Schools employees received a step increase in July 2011, according to school system spokesman Richard Wright.

Teachers and three other employee groups are set to receive another step in fiscal 2013.

Teachers will actually receive two steps, one in July and another in January, Wright said.

The steps are funded by $4.1 million in state money, he said.

Carroll County Public Schools employees last received a net salary increase of 1 percent in 2008-09, according to school system spokeswoman Brenda Bowers.

The Carroll County Board of Education approved a preliminary budget Feb. 22 that includes a step increase for employees, but that is contingent on funding, she said.

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