Teacher union seeks Amprey's resignation

June 01, 1994|By Norris P. West and JoAnna Daemmrich | Norris P. West and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

Calling him a union-buster, the Baltimore Teachers Union demanded the resignation of Walter G. Amprey as superintendent of the city's public school system yesterday.

"We will work actively for his removal," vowed an angry Irene Dandridge, co-president of the 8,500-member union.

The call for Dr. Amprey's ouster came five days after letters were mailed to the school system's 10,000 employees warning that a "considerable number" of them would be laid off or reassigned after June 30.

Mrs. Dandridge called the layoff warnings that began arriving in employees' home mailboxes Saturday a "Memorial Day massacre letter."

The demand for the superintendent's resignation surprised the mayor and other top city officials. Many hastened to defend the superintendent.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said flatly, "The school superintendent should not resign."

Mr. Schmoke said through his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, that he plans to arrange a meeting between teachers union officials and the superintendent as soon as Dr. Amprey returns from a trip to Israel. He is touring that country with other local leaders and is scheduled to return Sunday.

Reached at his hotel in Jerusalem before the BTU called for his resignation, Dr. Amprey refused to discuss the letter sent to school employees, saying he was preparing to leave for the Golan Heights and had no time to talk.

"I thought you were calling me about a family emergency," Dr. Amprey said.

During the news conference at the union headquarters in Northwest Baltimore, BTU officials sharply criticized Dr. Amprey for turning over 12 public schools to Education Alternatives Inc., a private Minneapolis company.

Privatization assailed

"We believe Dr. Amprey has just gone absolutely crazy with this whole idea of privatization," Mrs. Dandridge said.

Union leaders also argued that the superintendent's goal of decentralizing the school system in one year is much too ambitious.

Dr. Amprey warned in April that hundreds of central administration employees could be demoted or moved to other jobs as the school system shifted more authority and money to individual schools.

With school-based management, some principals could decide to eliminate teachers specializing in certain areas, such as teaching gifted and talented students. That could result in some reassignments or layoffs, although the Schmoke administration has said there will be no wholesale dismissals.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, an outspoken opponent of school privatization, called the May 26 letter disrespectful to city teachers but stopped short of siding with the resignation demand.

"We need to stabilize here," she said. "I am not looking for any further disruption. That goes for the superintendent and employees of the school system.

Other harsh critics of privatization also were reluctant to support the call for the superintendent's resignation.

Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, a 4th District Democrat, said only that the union's call for Dr. Amprey's ouster underscores the need for "an immediate dialogue between all of the parties involved."

Carl Stokes, a 2nd District Democrat, said, "We know what some of the changes are. I don't think people should say fire the union or fire the superintendent."

Representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the City Union of Baltimore joined the BTU in criticizing Dr. Amprey for seeking a big pay raise for himself at a time he is warning about impending layoffs.

The superintendent has not reached an agreement with the city on renewing his contract. But city sources have said discussions centered on raising his annual salary to $150,000 from $125,000 while allowing him to earn fees for outside speaking engagements.

A joint statement issued by the unions listed several other complaints about Dr. Amprey, including that he has spoken harshly of labor unions and collective bargaining, has created an unstable climate for employees and has sent employees "a message of no confidence."

Teachers union leaders said they would seek the help of two groups of black ministers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in their effort to dislodge Dr. Amprey.

George Buntin, executive director of the Baltimore NAACP, said his organization would have to study the matter. He said the superintendent "generally has done a good job" but added that he understood the union's concerns.

"A union wouldn't be a union if they didn't get upset about such a letter," Mr. Buntin said.

Mrs. Dandridge used vivid language to characterize the superintendent's actions, saying he was trying to satisfy the news media and the city's "white fathers" by changing the school system.

AFL-CIO to get involved

Ernie Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO, said he would bring the issue before his membership at the union's next meeting.

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