Before Board of Education members could begin tackling their agenda last night, they had to walk past a picket line of more than 150 teachers, counselors, principals and students angry about stalled negotiations and rumors of future cuts to Advanced Placement classes.
"They know we're out here," said teachers union head Tom Paolino, looking toward the door as people began assembling for the 7:30 p.m. board meeting. "Four employee unions are here because we don't have a contract. We just want to remind the board we're still here, and we're nothappy. These four employee groups are at an impasse over non-fiscal items."
Paolino's group, the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County,has asked for more planning time for elementary-school teachers, private use of some school equipment and installation of emergency call buttons in classrooms.
"I was at school last week where a teacher had to push an intruder out of the building," Paolino said, making a case for the call buttons. "Two young men were arrested later, but the teacher had no way of communicating with the office. Fortunately, she was able to get them out of the building."
Principals union head Richard Kovelant said his group is ready to return to the bargaining table if the board will budge on contract language.
All four unions -- representing teachers, principals, bus divers and custodians -- withdrew requests for pay increases in exchange for negotiating other non-monetary items.
Carrying a sign that read, "Secretaries don't want to dispense medicine," Kovelant, executive director of the Association of Education Leaders, said, "We are trying to demonstrate solidarity with fellow union members. We're always open to negotiations. We'll keep sending out the doves as long as they don't send out the vultures."
Said Randy Rankin, negotiator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, "It's the first time our unions had to go to impasse. It's really tough times, but the board is unwilling (even) to negotiate contract language. It doesn't costthem anything."
In the back of the line, the chant, "One-two-three-four/Don't cut the budget anymore," could be heard coming from Severna Park High School students concerned about rumors of cuts affecting Advanced Placement classes.
"It's not fair," Tracy Miller, 16, asophomore at Severna Park, said. "People are really working hard to get into good colleges, and these programs could be cut."
Inside, awaiting the beginning of the board meeting, board negotiator Donna DiGrazia sat quietly, almost oblivious to the protesters.
"It's their right," DiGrazia said about those with whom she has been unable tonegotiate a settlement.