Harford schools OK $20,000 for telephones HARFORD COUNTY

February 14, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

It's a daily competition of sorts for Harford teachers -- the scramble for an open phone. Finding one is no small task.

"In some schools, we have 20 teachers competing for one phone at the same time," said school board member Ronald Eaton at the board's Monday night meeting. "If a teacher needs to call a student's parent that can be a problem."

So most teachers, like Bob McCone, a government and modern world history teacher at Aberdeen High, try to make calls, usually to students' parents, at night. "Parents are more likely to be home in the evening and a lot of them don't like to be called at work," he said.

Hoping to ease the crunch, the school board approved $20,000 for more phones and phone lines last week as part of its $165.3 million operating budget for next year. Mr. Eaton said he wants at least two phones for teachers per building.

The teachers' contract calls for a minimum of one phone set aside for teachers per school. And that's all most schools have.

Only four of the school system's 29 elementary schools have more than one phone for teacher use, Mr. Eaton said. And none of the school system's kindergarten buildings have phones.

"If you can get to a phone you have to wait for a line to be free and then you've got to be ready to grab it immediately before someone else gets it. It can be very frustrating," said Bruce Gayle, a German teacher at Aberdeen High School.

Aberdeen High, with 1,052 students, has four phones dedicated for its 73 teachers -- more than any other school, the school system says. It's worse at 963-student Edgewood High, with only one phone for teachers.

In addition to more phones for teachers, preferably in private rooms, schools need more phone lines.

"There are lots of phones in every building, 14 or 15, but they are all in people's offices. And most schools have only three lines and you've got to wait for one of them to clear before you can call out," said Jean R. Thomas, president of the teachers' union, Harford County Education Association.

Any new phones for teachers should be placed in a private room. "Most of the time, teachers are calling parents because of a discipline problem. That parent has a right to expect a certain amount of privacy," Mrs. Thomas said.

She said teachers shouldn't be required to make phone calls, or perform any other school duties, at night.

Last year the school system spent about $360,000 on telephone service. This year the school system installed a central telephone service which lets schools and government offices call each other without paying for each call. The school system expects to spend about $320,000 this year on telephone service. Outside, local calls are 10 cents each.

"Keeping phones and phone lines to a minimum has been a matter of economy in the past," said Roger C. Niles, assistant superintendent for administrative services.

Each phone line costs $18 a month. "That doesn't sound like a lot until you multiply it by the 46 schools we have and the three phone lines each school has. And then multiply that by 12 months," he said.

Keith Williams, a school board member, said prohibitions against installing phones in teachers' lounges should be lifted. "Teachers should be able to decide where the phones go," he said. Long-distance calls require verification from the principals so there are few opportunities to misuse phones, he said.

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