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Smaller pay raises, class sizes could be coming to Montgomery Co.

From WTOP

WASHINGTON — Thousands of Montgomery County employees who were expecting a raise will get less than they bargained for, and parents may see smaller class sizes in their children’s classrooms.

That’s because the Montgomery County Council — in a preliminary vote — approved a plan to reduce the compensation packages for unions that represent teachers, firefighters, police officers and service workers.

Instead of boosting some county employees’ wages by up to eight percent, the savings will be applied to a plan to cut class size and attack the county school system’s persistent achievement gap between black and Latino students and their white and Asian-American peers.

The plan got a cold reception from union members in the audience for Monday’s council vote.

“It’s not good,” said Gilberto Zelaya, with the Montgomery County Government Employees Organization.

He watched the council vote 8 to 1 to cut the raises and step increases that his union members were hoping for.

“We understand that we all have to carry our weight,” Zelaya said. But he insists his union members are taking a disproportionate hit. Zelaya said other unions don’t have to pay the same share of their own health care that his members do.

“There should be some type of parity,” he said.

Councilman Marc Elrich was the lone vote opposing the changes to the collective bargaining agreements.

Asked about the fact that the union members are still getting pay increases — although in lesser amounts — Elrich said a look at recent history explains the grumbling. Elrich said the unions gave up step increases during the height of the recession.

“The recession ended, things got better—but we turned this into a permanent giveback instead of a temporary takeaway,” Elrich said.

Christopher Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, said the vote is “disappointing, it’s frustrating, but I’m also someone who understands that the public schools are supported by the public.”

Lloyd said keeping public support also means showing gains in the classroom.

Lloyd said for teachers, there’s a tradeoff: the County Council is supporting the addition of nearly $90 million to the county’s education budget. That’s above the state mandated maintenance of effort formula.

The intention is for that money to be applied to smaller class sizes and adding supports for students who need it most. There’s hope that could help close the county’s achievement gap.

Lloyd said it should be remembered that the nearly $90 million in added spending is a long-term commitment, since the county is mandated by the state to maintain spending levels each year.

Lloyd said the reductions to the current bargaining agreement represent a long-term gain for short-term pain. Still, he said, it will be a hard sell to his members

Another hard sell in the council’s projected budget: a boost to the county’s property tax and the recordation tax — the tax applied to home sales.

The final vote on the county’s $5.1 billion budget is scheduled for May 26.