Teachers Say They'll Quit Volunteering Under New Budget

May 22, 1991|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Parents began getting letters yesterday saying that their children'steachers will no longer volunteer for after-school activities.

The letters follow the Howard County Education Association's recommendation Monday that its 2,700 members "curtail" voluntary activities.

The strategy is a recommendation, not a mandate.

The May 17 Clarksville Middle School letter is typical of others parents are receiving. It said that, beginning immediately, teachers will no longer chaperon programs, attend back-to-school night or PTA meetings, tutor or participate in conferences when any of the events are conducted held outside of school hours. They also will not purchase materials on their own time or contact parents during evening hours. Teachers told parents they were taking the action because the county executive and the County Council have welshed on their contract.

The austere $270 million operating budget, which the council is expected to approve at noon tomorrow, does not include a previously agreed-upon 6 percentcost-of-living raise or seniority increases for teachers.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker cut the increases because all other countyemployees were denied raises. He also laid off 40 county workers andleft another 100 jobs unfilled.

Although teachers pleaded with the council to honor the contract by raising property taxes by more than the 14 cents Ecker had already proposed, the council refused.

The Clarksville teachers' letter asked for parents' understanding and for their assistance in contacting Ecker and the council "to voice your displeasure about this situation."

While it is not too late, it is highly unlikely that the council will amend the budget as the teachers want, council Chairman C. Vernon Gray said. He said the teachers' position is "very unfortunate," adding that he hopes they "reverse decision and continue rending excellent service."

At Monday night's public hearing, no one except budget officer Raymond S. Wacks testified about the three bills and 41 resolutions that the council is expected to approve tomorrow to make the budget a reality.

Earlier Monday, education association President James R. Swab seemed resigned to the inevitability of the fiscal 1992 budget when he announced that the association's representative council had "overwhelmingly" recommended that teachers "curtail their volunteering for meetings and activities beyond the workday" next fall, when the raises would have takeneffect.

Some teachers, are not waiting for fall. People affected by their decision say the action is a shortsighted, inappropriate means for teachers to express legitimate anger.

"We have some very good teachers, but if they want my sympathy, they are going about this in the wrong way," said Barbara Elliott, first vice president of the Clarksville Middle School PTA. "It angers me that they are starting (to abstain from volunteering) this year when they have a contract" that is still in effect.

"Teachers are never paid enough money, but every professional knows that overtime is part of the job," Elliott said. "With so many people out of jobs right now, it seems almost petty to talk about a raise."

Rosemary Mortimer, president of the county PTA council, said the policy could "hurt the students and/or drivea wedge between parents and teachers."

"The teachers have a rightto their anger, but they need to think about where they are putting it," she said.

"It is a time for cool heads to take over."

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said that while he is "very disappointed" that even seniority increments were not being paid for, he is concerned that the teachers' strategy appears aimed at students andparents rather than elected officials. "Nerves, feelings are on edge," he said. "And some teachers felt compelled to act now in the context of collective anger."

Ashish Bagal, a junior at Hammond High School who will head the County Association of Student Councils next year, said he finds it difficult to believe the teachers will carry outthe threat.

If they do, the before- and after-school tutorial programs will be hurt most, he said. "It's a tough situation that's really going to affect students next year. I don't think teachers could hold a job and not do these things. They're our friends, and they caretoo much."

Perhaps, but teacher Michael Petrovich of Dunloggin Middle School says the reneging on the contract gave teachers "a wake-up call" that will be renewed every time they open their paychecks next year.

"Nobody wants to do any of this," he said, but teachers cannot afford to be "good little boys and good little girls" any longer, even if it means risking the sympathy of parents.

Swab says association members are already calling to say they want to work the polls in the next election.

In the past, most members took Election Day off to grade papers, he said. Next time, "we're going to have to turn people away."

Council member Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, who received a standing ovation from teachers when she entered a public hearing on the education portion of the budget last month, said she "seesboth sides."

Pendergrass, who has two children in public schools,had assumed the no-volunteering plan would begin in the fall and teachers would "finish out the year without alienating their students and parents, their natural constituents."

"It will be our loss," shesaid."But it may mean parents will get a little more involved.And wemay gain from that."

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