Technology School Teachers File Grievances Against Day

Principal's Lawyer Dismisses The Issues As 'Frivolous Complaints'

December 22, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,SUN STAFF

Teachers who say they are dissatisfied with management practices at the Howard County School of Technology have filed several grievances in the last 12 months against Principal Mary J. Day.

Day, in turn,has retained attorney Charles J. Ware, former general counsel for Maryland National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, torepresent her on school-related issues.

Ware charged that a small group of teachers has tried to undermine the principal "with frivolous complaints."

One grievance involved management of profits from soda and snack machines at the school. Asecond involved a teacher's contention that the principal was infringing on teacher planning time guaranteed in the contract by scheduling meetings during that period.

Two teachers who have filed grievances challenging policies or procedures say Day appears to take the appeals as a personal affront.

"I think it boils down to the fact that reasonable people, to her, cannot disagree," said Pam Plantz-Poley, a work experience coordinator with 20 years' experience in teaching. "To me, a grievance is not a personal issue."

Electronics teacher Robert V. L. Sharp, a 17-year teaching veteran, reported that Day "had told me that when people file grievances, it comes back to haunt them." He added that in his view, a grievance is "a healthy way to resolve situations."

Day referred all questions to her lawyer.

Grievances are an arbitration procedure to resolve differences between employees and their supervisors. Teachers, principals and supervisorsare allowed to file grievances about work-related issues covered in the contract between the Howard County Education Association and school board.

Five teachers filed a grievance seeking a voice in the management of proceeds from school snack and soda machines after Day announced last March that the fund might not contain enough money to send students to Vocational Industrial Clubs of America skills competitions.

The teachers said they couldn't understand why the money that had been used to send local vocational-technical students to stateand national competitions would not be available.

Audit records at the Department of Education show that the 11 snack and soda machines brought in $25,472 during 1990-1991, and that $27,597 was paid out of the account. Patti Caplan, school system public information officer, said the money was spent on conferences or workshops for teachers,student activities and general school needs. She could not confirm whether the student activities included the VICA competitions.

James R. McGowan, associate superintendent for administration and instruction, ruled that the principal has complete control over the disposition of vending machine profits. McGowan cited confidentiality rules in refusing to comment on the case. Grievances are confidential under the teachers contract.

An appeal to binding arbitration would havebeen the next step.

Marius Ambrose, Maryland State Teachers Association representative for Howard County, said the union decided not to appeal.

Ware said the vending machine issue "is just part of an overall pattern of harassment (of Day) by a small group of people." He said teachers from the school have "engaged in unfounded rumors andinnuendoes and engaged in smear tactics."

The lawyer declined to describe the alleged rumors or smear tactics. "That would be contributing to them," he said.

McGowan said he knew of no pending legal proceedings at the School of Technology. He said other principals haveoccasionally retained private lawyers to represent them on school-related issues, one as recently as this fall. The school system does not pay attorneys' fees for principals unless the legal action involvesthe Board of Education, he said.

McGowan said principals who hireattorneys "may feel that there has been an infringement of their rights or that they are being harassed or there may be something coming up where they want the advice of an attorney."

The associate superintendent said he could not comment on the working relationship between the faculty and teachers at the School of Technology.

"Whereverpeople work together, there is the potential for conflicts," he said. "It would be inappropriate for me to characterize that particular school as different from any other."

Ambrose said he could not offer a disinterested assessment of the situation because "that would be pitting (union) member against member." Howard is one of six Marylandcounties in which the teachers union also represents principals and supervisors.

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