On a day when they ordinarily would have been at PTA meetings reviewing first-quarter report cards with parents, more than 1,000 Baltimore teachers instead marched on City Hall to voice their outrage over Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's proposal to make up a budget deficit by cutting a week of school.
Their message: the City that Reads can't afford to close schools for a week, and its teachers can't afford to lose a week's pay.
"These children are at the bottom of the totem pole," said Theresa Gresham, a second-grade teacher at George Street Elementary. "We're trying to send a message to parents: 'Send your child to school. It's important.' Now we're saying we'll close schools. It's double talk."
The march started at school headquarters at North Avenue, then headed down Guilford Avenue toward City Hall. The teachers marched briskly, chanting and carrying placards. Police stopped traffic from crossing Guilford Avenue and cars stopped at intersections honked their support as the four-block-long procession of teachers passed by.
Teachers said they've done enough by agreeing to forgo their negotiated raises earlier this year, a $34 million savings for the city.
"My gross pay did not change one penny last year to this year," said teacher Trudi Daddio, who marched more than a mile with her two daughters yesterday. "Thirty-four million is enough and we're not giving more. We're not."
At City Hall, the marchers were joined by others who drove or were shuttled by bus from Memorial Stadium. The Baltimore Teachers' Union called the rally and met last night with Mayor Schmoke to discuss the union's proposals for making up the $7.5 million that would be saved by closing schools.
Union president Irene Dandridge said last night that the mayor seemed willing to consider alternatives, including the union's early retirement proposal.
"We've gotten him to rethink a five-day closing of school," Ms. Dandridge said. "I think he's willing to consider just about anything that would save the money."
The union and Schmoke administration officials will meet again later this week, she said.
Teachers filled the square in front of City Hall, where the City Council held its regular meeting. They chanted "Just Say No To Furloughs," "We Won't Take it Anymore," and at one point "Kurt . . . Kurt . . . Kurt."
"We are the City that Reads. How in the world can we teach children to read if we are home? You can't do it. . . . And then they give us bum report cards," said Gail Browne, who teaches prekindergarten classes at Bay-Brook Elementary.
The second annual state report card released last week showed city students lagged behind their peers in reading and every other subject.
The city also is one of the poorest school systems in the state. Its starting salary for teachers last year was $22,162, the state's fourth lowest.
The mayor had promised to make teacher salaries in the city competitive with surrounding areas, but his efforts were suspended due to this year's budget crisis.
Amy Sanders, a teacher at Steuart Hill Elementary, said she makes nearly $5,000 less than her peers in Anne Arundel County, where she lives. Last month gunmen ran through the playground at her school, firing off bullets, though no one was hurt.
"We're the ones that get shot at, and we make $5,000 less than most other counties," Ms. Sanders said.
Edward Mierzwicki, an English and drama teacher at Northern High School, said he has 40 students in each of his classes and the number may go up to 50 next year.
A kindergarten teacher who identified herself only as M. Robinson said she spends $300 a year for supplies for her students -- supplies the city can't provide.