With furloughs, no pay raises, education bashing and more work expected of them, morale among Carroll school teachers has sunk lower thana failing test score.
"At first we were holding our own," said Mike McDearmon, a Sykesville Middle School social studies teacher.
"But as time goes on, I see teachers becoming more disgruntled with what's going on."
What's going on are budget woes. Teachers, not unlike other school workers, are worried about more cuts that couldaffect salaries, classroom supplies, programs and, perhaps, jobs.
The superintendent's proposed $112 million budget for next year doesn't include any kind of salary increases for teachers or other schoolworkers. They will not receive increment or longevity pay, either.
Aware of the low morale among the staff, Superintendent R. Edward Shilling has stressed that contracts are still open for negotiation. Spending proposals within the budget, he has said, are subject to legislative approval of proposed increases in state dollars for education.
The latest budget woes come during a year in which teachers and school workers went without a wage increase. They've also taken two furlough days as a means of trimming the district's original $107 million budget.
"I have heard morale is low, and I would understand that to a certain extent because there were no salary increases this year," said board President Cheryl A. McFalls. "And even though we haven't gotten to the table this year, I think they all believe there's not going to be a salary increase next year."
But McFalls said she visited Hampstead and Piney Run elementary schools last week and found teachers to be "very positive."
"I did not see low morale," she said. "I saw people who were happy with their jobs."
She said board members would love to compensate teachers for what they do but haveto work within budget constraints. She noted that Carroll teachers have benefited from strides made in salaries in recent years.
"Teachers are trying to be as optimistic as they can for next year while waiting," said Tony Roman, a social studies teacher at North Carroll High School. "(Morale) hasn't hit bottom yet. People are trying to make the best situation possible for the kids."
Ann Thompson, a fourth-grade teacher at Freedom Elementary School, said conditions outsidethe classroom but not inside the classroom have caused morale to take a plunge.
"Most teachers care about the path (on which) education is going," she said. "Most are real dedicated to their jobs and spend their own money on supplies."
Cindy Cummings, president of the Carroll County Education Association, which represents about 1,400 teachers, said teachers are receiving less pay but are being asked to do more.
"We're being asked to attend more workshops and in-servicetypes of things with less money," she said. "I have not seen (morale) this bad."
Teachers, she said, also are feeling more pressure because of state and local school improvement programs.
To boost morale among teachers, Joanne Schoberg has conducted a survey that she hopes to share with the public. The survey outlines why teachers became involved in education and why they are involved in their communities.
"As far as their attitudes toward kids and doing their jobs, morale is high," said Schoberg, a language arts teacher at Sykesville Middle School. "What teachers feel what they're doing is not being accepted by parents and the school board, and I think that's where the problem is."