The lobby of Dunloggin Middle School in Ellicott City looked like a crowded bus station late yesterday afternoon, with some ++ 50 teachers checking their watches.
Precisely at 3:15 p.m. they headed out the doors and homeward with no test papers or student essays under their arm to correct.
The first work-to-rule protest in the history of Howard County's schools began yesterday as part of a three-day action teachers described as "a symbolic protest" against County Executive Charles I. Ecker's budget. Mr. Ecker slashed $8.9 million from the school board's request, which will wipe out negotiated pay and step increases.
"I am doing what I normally do in the classroom," said Paul Higdon, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Dunloggin Middle. "But I am not taking home student assignments to grade and it will take longer for me to get the graded papers back to the students."
Some teachers said they had postponed conferences with parents and students they ordinarily would have held after school. Others said they they did not stay late to work on preparing for teaching the next day. And many vowed to write letters to the council asking that the money be restored.
Jim Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, which represents 2,700 teachers and administrators, said representatives from 23 of 50 county schools called the association "on their own to say there was 100 percent support for the work-to-rule at their schools."
The teachers' protest, which is to include a rally Monday night at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City before the council meeting, did not ruffle any feathers in the central office because there was no disruption of the typical school day and intramurals and varsity sports went on as scheduled.
"Things are very normal at the schools," said Michael E. Hickey, superintendent of county schools. "My feeling all along is that it -- should cause no disruption in the school day, and that is the case, based on reports I am getting from principals."
The superintendent said teachers met in front of most of the county school buildings yesterday morning "when they had to be there and walked in together to make a statement, but it's been very orderly and regular instruction is going on. The kids do not seem to be noticing anything at all."
The work-to-rule protest went on without Mr. Hickey's blessing, although the superintendent backs the association's position that the $8.9 million should be restored to the school board budget.
"I support the idea of teachers protesting something they are upset about, but don't agree with work-to-rule," Mr. Hickey said. "The message is misdirected and given to the wrong group -- to kids and parents. I wish they had not chosen this particular method but at least it is not disrupting (the) school day and the impact is marginal."
"We are not a militant group, but I feel we have to take a stand now or we will be in worse trouble next year," said Kay Tucci, an English teacher at Dunloggin Middle School.
Brian McDonald, an eighth-grade math teacher at Dunloggin Middle, said he and his wife bought a house in Lutherville recently based on the 6 percent negotiated pay raise for teachers.
"I will have to wait the next two weeks to see if the council restores the money to decide whether to get a second job or leave teaching for business," said the math teacher, whose annual salary is $29,000.
Teachers will lose, on the average, about $3,000 if Mr. Ecker's cuts are not restored by the County Council, an association official said.
Sue Ann Tabler, the retiring principal at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, said she joined a group of protesting teachers who marched into the school at 7 a.m. yesterday. She expressed concern that the cuts would hurt the county in the future.
"My concern is that we will realize the implications of these cuts down the road," said Ms. Tabler. "We are used to having a fine system here, and having anything less, I think, would be unacceptable."
Louis Brzezinski, a teachers' association activist who teaches reading to eighth-graders at Harpers Choice Middle School said, "There was 100 percent participation at my school. We went in together at 8:10 a.m. and left 3:30 p.m.
"The teaching was normal and kids did not suffer," he said. "We got in there before the kids arrived and we were there after they were dismissed. The work-to-rule does not affect quality of teaching."