Bel Air High School senior Connie Choi needed to stay after school to make up some work she missed while out sick.
But the teachers she needed to see walked out promptly at 2:35 p.m. Thursday as called for in their union's "work to contract" strike.
So far, the Harford County Education Association's decision to perform only duties required by contract one day a week has not hurt many students, say school administrators and union representatives.
HCEA president Christine Haggett said the school system depends on teachers working after hours and planning lessons and grading papers athome.
"This job action has been designed to call attention to theunder-funding of education," she said. "It was not meant in any way,shape or form to damage students' education."
In the protest against further budget cuts, the union designated one day each week for teachers to work only the hours written in their contract.
That means 8:30 a.m. to 3:50 p.m. for elementary school teachers on Tuesdays;8 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. for middle school on Wednesdays; and 7:20 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. for high school on Thursdays.
"Most of my friends don't care. They just hope the teachers go on strike so they can get out of class," said Choi, 16.
"But for me, it's frustrating, because Ihave to finish my work and the marking period ends tomorrow," she said.
It's not often that labor and management seek the same goals in a union action. But that's what happened last week.
Teachers andprincipals agreed to rearrange schedules to avoid disrupting after-school activities. Sports events are not affected because coaches and other teachers are paid for that time.
"I have mixed feelings but I certainly sympathize with teachers' efforts to bring attention to this," said Bel Air High School principal William M. Ekey.
Despite the job action, Bel Air's English teachers attended a meeting arranged after hours with college-level colleagues.
Ekey also said the union contract binds teachers who volunteered as ushers for the school's drama production of "The Crucible" Thursday and Friday.
Public school teachers across the state began job actions last week in support of an opinion poll released by the Maryland State Teachers Association showing voters would approve a tax increase for education.
School superintendent Ray R. Keech made the union's argument Thursday, when he briefed the county's General Assembly delegation on his budgetproblems.
"Please don't be offended by this statement, but we're 22nd in per student spending," he said.
"There are only two counties that spend less than us."
Earlier, Haggett argued that if the county raised per pupil spending to 16th in the state -- the same ranking as its per-pupil wealth last year -- then Harford could afford the entire $153 million Keech originally sought for the 1991-1992 school year.
The county passed a $136.8-million school budget in May that did not include money for raises or the 7.8-percent cost-of-livingadjustment provided in the teachers contract.
"We're not happy with the expectations made on teachers, that we do more than our jobs and they're not honoring a negotiated agreement," Bel Air English teacher Terri Wainwright said.
"We had to tighten our belts and that makes one a little less eager to put in extra hours at night."
Before the delegation meeting, Keech sympathized with the teachers, but he stopped short of supporting a tax increase.
"I don't want to endorse something where I don't know precisely what they're saying," he said.
"But it's clear that education needs more financial support."
The "work to contract" strike comes as the HCEA and the Board ofEducation prepare for contract negotiations.