There's no denying that teachers across the region are being squeezed by the tightening budget vise gripping local governments. Many have forfeited scheduled pay increases and face the threat of furloughs and cuts in materials and extracurricular activities. Frustration, even anger, is to be expected, but some educators are responding with behavior bordering on the unprofessional. Consider the outrageous quid pro quo in Montgomery County. Some teachers will prepare college recommendations only if students write to local or state legislators urging higher taxes to pay for salary increases and school programs. This, incredibly, is being passed off as a lesson in civic responsibility.
In Baltimore City, teachers marched on City Hall to protest Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's proposal to ease the city's financial crunch by cutting a week of school. In Anne Arundel County, the teacher's union has cavalierly opened its members to layoffs by refusing to accept pay cuts in any form. In Prince George's, teachers are protesting furloughs and other cuts by refusing to tutor students before school or during lunch, grade papers at home or write letters of recommendation for seniors. A similar ban on "extra" services has been underway in Howard County for months.
V. Thomas Gray III, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Teachers Association, admits the fiscal crisis is real, but says too few people are willing to admit the state's tax structure is inadequate. "It's been a cut-and-slash mentality rather than a rethinking of the whole thing," he said. True, but governments run on revenues, not rhetoric. Today's challenge is managing local school systems on available funds. Screaming for higher taxes doesn't pay salaries. Neither does holding college letters hostage for political action or refusing to tutor needy students.