The Baltimore Teachers Union is starting a job action today to pressure Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to reconsider his decision to close schools for five days during which all school system employees would be furloughed without pay.
In addition, teachers are planning a march from school system headquarters on East North Avenue downtown to City Hall next Monday evening to dramatize their plight.
"Teachers in Baltimore City have been giving and giving and giving," Lorretta Johnson, co-president of the BTU, said after a union meeting in the jam-packed auditorium of Coldstream Park Elementary School yesterday.
The mayor's decision is in response to a $27 million cut in state aid, including a $10 million cut to the school budget. The mayor's plan closes libraries and fire stations and eliminates 571 city jobs, including 252 in the fire department.
The BTU wants to negotiate with Schmoke over the budget cuts, and is staging a job action to underline its point.
The union is asking teachers to "work to rule" -- starting today -- and refuse to participate in any work activities that are not stipulated in their contract.
The union asked the teachers to refuse hall and cafeteria duty, to refuse to plan all outside activities, including trips, to refuse to attend community meetings and to refuse to stay on the job any longer than the six hours and 50 minutes described in their contract.
Union officials added that if the job action is ineffective, they will go to court in an attempt to block the furloughs.
The BTU, which represents 8,500 teachers and teacher aides, said that the mayor should look somewhere other than at its members' paychecks to save money.
"Sure the students lose with this," Jennifer Womack, a special education teacher at Tench Tilghman Elementary School in East Baltimore, said of the job action. "But they are going to lose anyway. . . . They city needs to find somewhere else to cut."
Union officials said they are angry that Schmoke has chosen not to use the budget-cutting remedies they had proposed, including an early-retirement program for teachers, a ban on hiring substitutes and delaying book purchases.
They also said that, since they forfeited a 6 percent raise earlier this year to help the city through its budget crisis, they should not have to sacrifice another week's pay.
"Our strategy is, '. . . we're not going to sit here and take it,' " BTU co-president Irene Dandridge said to loud applause during yesterday's meeting.
Clinton R. Coleman, Schmoke's press secretary, said that to "spare the pain" on teachers the city will take the teachers' pay reduction over five pay periods, rather than in one.
Also, he said, the days that the furloughs occur still are open to negotiation. "That's between the school board and the union," Coleman said. "He only wants it [the furloughs] to come during the cold months."
Also, Coleman said, despite charges to the contrary, the mayor considered suggestions put forth by the BTU before going ahead with his budget cutting plan.
"To say that he ignored their proposal is not true," he said. "The bottom line is there is no painless way to take that kind of money from the school budget in the middle of an academic year."