Educators or Obstructionists? ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

June 21, 1993

One can only hope that the summer recess will cool the labor strife infecting school systems here and elsewhere in Central Maryland.

Two Anne Arundel County school board members who don't support 3 percent raises for teachers received threatening calls, one of which was traced to a telephone in a middle school. The teachers union is threatening a work-to-rule action this fall.

The Baltimore County teachers union held its first general membership meeting in 17 years, so enraged is it by the changes being made by new Superintendent Stuart D. Berger.

In Baltimore City, the union is fighting an expansion of the innovative Tesseract program.

And in Montgomery County, teachers have authorized their union to prepare for a strike when school re-opens -- though it would be illegal -- to protest the lack of cost-of-living raises.

Bodily threats and other public disturbances are unconscionable and should be dealt with firmly; no doubt most teachers are as upset as the rest of us by such hooliganism. The fact is teachers are in a tough spot. They must negotiate in a absurd process, in which they haggle for a contract with school boards that control no money, only to see those settlements rejected by the politicians who do harbor the funds. Few other professionals would want to subject themselves to such a spectacle.

That said, teachers have done a poor job separating their professional selves from their union selves. Organized labor in other fields, particularly the private sector, generally focus their concerns in terms of working conditions or compensation; they don't pretend they're arguing on behalf of the sausage, the I-beam or the newspaper they're making. But teachers' unions often muddle that distinction. Their concerns are wages, job security and working conditions, but they drag management strategy, classroom innovations and picketing schoolchildren into the fray.

The public hears the complaints from teachers and may be duped into believing the worst about the initiatives being tried. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers shouldn't block the necessary revitalization of education. If teachers insist on being obstructionists, people must remember that the teachers' individual interests and the public interests aren't one and the same.

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