Montgomery County school employees are banking pensions that dwarf those awarded to teachers across Maryland, an arrangement crafted to recruit top talent that is now wreaking havoc on the suburb's balance sheet. Relieved county leaders welcomed Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement that he would not pass pension costs onto counties this year, but Montgomery taxpayers still foot more of the bill for teacher retirement than anywhere else in the state.

Montgomery will devote more than $62 million this fiscal year to the effort, as the lone county required to supplement teacher pensions under a state law pushed by union leaders and local school officials when the suburb was flush with money.

The supplement given to school employees is 150 percent higher than required. In other words, pensions for Montgomery school employees are 11 percent higher than those making the same salaries in other Maryland jurisdictions.

But top brass in public employees unions are resistant to an overhaul of the perks.

"Given the current state of the market, that doesn't make sense," said Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association. "It's asking employees to forgo what was a major attraction to public service."

When benefits are included, the average school worker costs taxpayers about $100,000 annually, a recent report from the county's Office of Legislative Oversight found.

"It's really not fair," County Council President Valerie Ervin said of the discrepancy in benefits between school employees and general government workers. "The schools negotiate those deals at the expense of everyone else. There really is a question of equity." - Brian Hughes