Multiple retirement plan providers will be available to Baltimore County school employees, but only after the school board hesitated, debating the companies’ stability amid the economic meltdown.

The school board’s unanimous vote Tuesday evening represents a rare victory for the employees, who for months had battled the school board over its decision to not give cost-of-living salary increases this year. The board two weeks ago rejected a plan to force all employees to one provider after hundreds of employees rallied against the move.

The five companies that the board approved include American International Group, which nearly became bankrupt before the federal government bailed it out. Congress is now investigating the company and how it was run.

“I’m concerned about AIG,” board member Frances A.S. Harris said. “I mean, look at all they’re going through right now.”

To allow the school system time to take a more thorough look at the companies, board member David Uhlfelder proposed writing to Maryland’s representatives in Congress to ask their help in pushing back the IRS’s January deadline for selecting the vendors. “I think that we need some independent evaluation of the fiscal soundness of all the vendors,” he said.

But school system officials said they have already pressed for the deadline to be extended and have not been successful.

They said that AIG and the other four companies -- Lincoln Financial Group, MetLife Resources, Security Financial Resources & Security Distributors Inc. and ING Life Insurance & Annuity Company -- have assured the county that they are doing well.

And if the lawmakers in Washington D.C. are struggling to get to the bottom of the economic crisis, board members said, then it may be impossible for the county school board navigate through it.