Howard executive seeks peace talks on school situation Teachers move to start work-to-rule policy

June 11, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

For the past four years, teacher Joe Wieczorek has volunteered to coordinate a "chemical free" cruise on the Chesapeake Bay for Centennial High seniors celebrating their graduation. But next year, he won't.

The French and Spanish teacher says he will join the majority of teachers at his school and stop volunteering for after-school activities to protest the decision to cut their 6 percent pay raises and step increase from the budget. "I don't want to be a part of it because teachers are not being treated with respect," Mr. Wieczorek said.

Decisions such as Mr. Wieczorek's have prompted Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker to call a peace conference of sorts as a way to settle his flap with teachers before the school year begins.

He is inviting James Swab, president of the teachers' association; Deborah D. Kendig, chairwoman of the school board; and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey to meet with him and discuss ways to end the rift.

"I am an eternal optimist. I think we can resolve something. I think we have to," said Mr. Ecker, adding that he wants "to repair the divisions" that have led the teachers' association to call for a work-to-rule policy next September.

While the Republican executive said the county "does not have the money" to provide raises for teachers or other employees for the fiscal year that starts July 1, he held out hope that raises would be forthcoming the next year.

"I don't think we can go two years without raises," Mr. Ecker said. "I will make an effort to provide raises for all employees the following fiscal year."

Mr. Ecker said he hopes to avoid the widespread conflict that could arise if teachers stop participating in after-school activities, such as back-to-school nights, parent conferences and chaperoning school trips.

"I am hoping we will be able to avoid it and come out with a plan that will build bridges," he said. "I don't have any ideas right now, but we have to do something. I can understand how teachers and other employees feel, but I hope they can understand the financial condition of the county."

P. Anne Dunn, the parent of a Centennial senior, got a taste of what work-to-rule will be like recently when five teachers who were to ride buses with seniors to Baltimore for this year's "chemical free" cruise backed out.

Ms. Dunn said the teachers did keep their commitment to join the June 4 cruise as chaperones, but she had to scramble to find replacements for the bus ride to Baltimore's Inner Harbor from graduation ceremonies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

"It was very upsetting to me, and it created a hassle," said Ms. Dunn, who also is an aide to Councilman Darrel E. Drown, R-2nd.

Dr. Hickey said he was "not sure that short of giving money or making guarantees that the teachers are going to be very receptive. There is still a lot of anger. But I am willing to sit down and talk with [Mr. Ecker] now."

James Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, said he would be willing to meet with Mr. Ecker

"I have been saying for a long time I am willing to sit down and talk," said Mr. Swab. "A dialogue needs to be started that will resolve a lot of the problems between educators and county government. The teachers are still angry and furious."

What the teachers want, said Marius Ambrose, a negotiator for the Howard County Education Association, is an agreement that the county will "honor the third year of contract" in fiscal 1993. That would mean teachers would get a 12 per cent pay boost plus the restoration of step raises in fiscal 1993.

So far Mr. Swab said teachers at 20 of 27 elementary schools, nine of 11 middle schools and seven of eight high schools have agreed to join the work-to-rule action.

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