The Howard County school superintendent has urged school employees not to allow a protest by teachers and administrators denied a negotiated pay raise to divide the school system.
"The potential exists for divisiveness, between and among staff members and between the school system or individual schools and the community," Superintendent Michael E. Hickey warned in a letter distributed to teachers and other staff members Monday.
He said the school system "cannot allow" that to happen.
Mr. Hickey urged teachers and administrators to respect whatever decisions their colleagues make about supporting the Howard County Education Association's job action withholding voluntary services after the work day, such as chaperoning extracurricular activities or attending after-school committee meetings.
The union's protest is in response to a decision by County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the Howard County Council not to finance negotiated raises for teachers and administrators, citing a financial crisis prompted by a downturn in the economy.
Mr. Ecker has indicated that he intends to give teachers and other public employees a raise in the fiscal year that begins July 1, 1992, but he has not said how large the raises would be.
"If we allow our differences on this issue to divide us, we will be unable to mount the unified effort that will be required to address our budget needs for next year and beyond," Mr. Hickey said in the letter.
He called on educators to "ensure that whatever protest actions individuals or groups have determined to take do not intrude on the instructional program or negatively impact the climate of the instructional day insofar as the students are concerned."
In the letter, Mr. Hickey, who could not be reached for comment last night, said he would meet with teachers and administrators to discuss budget goals for next year and "how we can work together on the challenges ahead."
James Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, said the association's leadership "agrees with the superintendent that we work together because we don't want to divide ourselves." He said the superintendent's letter was a "courageous step forward. . . . We don't want people turning against each other."
Mr. Hickey wrote that the letter was an "unusual step," but he said "the year that lies ahead promises to be the most critical one we have faced."
He cited "bulging enrollment," which will add 1,200 to 1,300 new students to the 30,000-student system in September, "increasing diversity of our student population, growing community expectations and new accountability measures at both state and national levels -- all of this in a fiscal crisis unprecedented in our history."