Students, parents, teachers, principals and school leaders plan to take to the streets today in a last-ditch effort to keep the governor from transferring financial control from the school board to the county executive.
The campaign was organized last weekend after the General Assembly approved a controversial plan giving county executivesthe authority to cut budgets of boards of education, libraries and community colleges. Local governments were given that authority until next June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Union leaders are also scheduled to be involved in the 4 p.m. protest, which begins at the Naval Academy stadium and ends at the Arundel Center on Calvert Street in Annapolis. Protesters hope to persuadeGov. William Donald Schaefer not to sign the amendment.
Protest organizers filled the Board of Education meeting room to capacity yesterday. School administrators and parent and student representatives mapped their strategy to deliver the message that the school system's budget should remain under the control of the school board.
"We need to be out there," Charles Owens, the newly elected president of the Association of Education Leaders, which represents principals and administrators. "We need to let our communities know that this is urgent. We have a fundamental issue concerning who is going to run our schools."
Speakers will offer their message on the county governmentsteps at the Arundel Center. At 6 p.m., the county groups are scheduled to meet with protesters from other Maryland school districts and head toward the State House.
At the same time, county officials and school board members will meet to discuss the amendment. The governor is scheduled to make a decision on Thursday.
"(County ExecutiveRobert R. Neall) doesn't have the power yet," said Tom Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. "It's set that way to allow the public to respond. We will participate in the protest, and we expect thousands of teachers, parents, students and allof the board employees. The message is that we want politicians out of education. We are absolutely appalled by the amendment."
Schoolunion leaders say they are angry that neither Neall or County Council members have contacted them to discuss the impact of the executive's plan on their unions. Neall met with other county labor leaders Friday. Traditionally, the four school system unions negotiate directly with the school board about salaries.
Under the amendment, Neall is seeking a 4 percent cut in salaries from all school system employees, as well as from county government workers. County officials have said payroll cuts are sought first because Neall wants to reserve program cuts if the budget must be trimmed further.
But school union members say they are unwilling to have their salaries cut.
"We'll see him in court before that happens," said Richard Kovelant, executive director of the Association of Education Leaders. "We will go to war. The U.S. Constitution says they can not impair the obligation of acontract. The state can not set that aside. Does Mr. Neall think he is above the Constitution?"
There is concern that a 4 percent cut across the board would be unfair to the school system's 6,000 employees, whose salaries range greatly.
Cafeteria workers, for instance,earn $7.96 an hour for three-hour work days, and classroom aides earn about $11,735 a year, while central office program directors earn as much as $71,502.
"Last year, the board cooperated and did not spend $8 million," school board President Jo Ann Tollenger told protestorganizers.
"This year, we were asked to help out with $5 million. This board will continue to cooperate, but this board will take on the issue of who will run it. We will fight this issue."
Deputy Superintendent C. Berry Carter reminded principals and students that student involvement must be after school hours.
During the past week, students throughout the county have participated in walkouts and protests at the State House. Students reportedly pulled the fire alarm eight times at Meade High School to show their anger about proposed cuts to extracurricular activities.
"In my opinion, that kind of behavior is counterproductive," Carter said. "Our business is to educate. Class time should not be used to discuss these issues."
Carter was later asked how teachers could avoid addressing the issue, since it is on the minds of students.
"We're teaching children to read, so it shows some of those lessons are hitting home. We're not tellingthem not to get involved. But going to the State House during schoolhours and pulling the fire alarm does not gain public support."
"I just want to assure you that students will be involved without causing disruption in the schools," Katie Cimbolic, an officer in the Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils, told organizers of the rally.
"We would like Neall to understand that we would like the separation of government and schools," said Anne Young, chairwomanof the Countywide Citizens Advisory Committee. "As parents, we wouldnot be pleased if he came back to this board and asked for more cuts."