Frustrated Balto. County teachers begin work-to-rule protest Teachers won't perform voluntary duties to protest cost-cutting.

March 25, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Frustrated by two years of budget cuts, no pay raises, four furlough days and, now, the prospect of more crowded classrooms, Baltimore County's teachers are increasing the pressure on public officials by refusing to perform all voluntary services and by picketing at individual schools every day.

The so-called "work-to-rule" job action could disrupt senior proms and graduations, after-school clubs, sports teams and other activities to which teachers donate time voluntarily, said Ed Veit, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

The job action was approved unanimously at a meeting of TABCO representatives from each county school March 20, Mr. Veit said. It was announced yesterday and will take effect immediately.

He said teachers at each school will decide the most effective action to take at their own building. Generally, Mr. Veit said, teachers will report 15 minutes before school as required, and stay 15 minutes after dismissal, and do no more.

Some athletic coaches who have already put in the hours they are paid for could also stop coaching, he said, and teachers will stop buying supplies with their own money.

Yesterday, teachers and other county workers again gathered at the old courthouse in Towson, outside the offices of County Executive Roger B. Hayden and the County Council chambers.

More than 100 teachers and other county workers crowded into the executive's outer office, which one teacher promptly proclaimed big enough for 50 kids and a teacher -- "and the roof doesn't leak!"

After chanting "We want Roger," Mr. Veit said the protesters would return next week with sleeping bags and thermos jugs.

A standing-room crowd of more than 1,200 teachers and others attended the executive's final public budget meeting last night at Loch Raven High School. The teachers plan more demonstrations before tomorrow night's school board meeting.

Jerry Backoff, a 24-year veteran county teacher, said, "We are under siege and instead of help, our efforts are betrayed."

Wendy Reece, a police officer's wife, said, "We don't disown one of our sons for five days if money is tight."

Mrs. Reece said her husband earns $26,000 a year after four years on the job and supports her and three children.

County police and other employees were furloughed for five days as part of a $12.5 million budget cut this spring.

Most of the speakers advocated more spending for schools, but Charles Hahn of the northern county protest group called Property Taxpayers United warned against any tax increase for next year.

"Waste is still prevalent in Annapolis, and economies can still be taken in county schools," he said.

Because of the budget crunch, Mr. Hayden said he expects to have no money to hire new teachers or to replace those who leave this summer. And he predicted that class sizes would climb from the current average of 24 to about 26, though classes in some crowded schools might soar to 35 students or more.

The county expects 3,700 more students in September 1992 than the 90,000 attending classes in public schools this year.

Mr. Veit said: "If we let it go past this year the class sizes are going to be astronomical. . . . We already know we're not getting a pay raise again. Our motives are higher than salary and furlough days.

"The purpose of the work-to-rule is not to punish students, but to inform parents and community members about deteriorating circumstances in our schools and the potential disaster for next year," he added.

Mr. Veit chastised state lawmakers for having "abrogated their responsibility to provide essential services. . . . Lack of public pressure on the state legislature to resolve this funding crisis is the real cause of the work-to-rule."

School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel, who said he learned of the action yesterday, said he is sympathetic to the teachers' anger and frustration.

But the job action will "hurt programs for children" and "will cause a loss of public confidence," he added.

Acknowledging that the General Assembly, and especially Baltimore County's delegation, is unlikely to vote for new taxes to support schools, Mr. Veit said the teachers want Mr. Hayden to increase the property tax rate to pay for county services.

He added that a 23-cent increase in the rate would be needed just to keep the budget at this year's level.

That does not include any increase in the county's portion of the state income tax -- one proposal still under consideration in Annapolis.

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