Amprey defends letter of warning

June 06, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

More than a week after he sent all 10,000 Baltimore City school system employees a letter warning of a "considerable number" of reassignments or layoffs, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said yesterday that he remains unsure how many will be targeted.

"I can't tell you a number right now. We don't know all the answers . . . but there's some things that we do know," he said at a news conference yesterday morning. "What we are talking about is making sure that the right people are doing the right jobs for the school system."

In his first public comments since school employees began receiving the May 26 letter, Dr. Amprey repeatedly said the impending reassignments and layoffs are results of last-minute budget adjustments and the system's effort to move more money, staff and authority from headquarters to individual schools.

Dr. Amprey defended yesterday his decision to send the letter, which shocked and angered school employees, the day he left for Israel. He said the city is required to give employees 30 days' notice of reassignments or layoffs and he hopes to notify all affected employees by June 30.

As the letter began landing in mailboxes, the Baltimore Teachers Union denounced it as a "Memorial Day Massacre letter," then called for Dr. Amprey's resignation.

Yesterday, Dr. Amprey stressed that teachers are not the primary targets of reassignments or layoffs. But he added that some could be reassigned or laid off as he embarks on a wrenching process to shift more employees from headquarters to schools.

"There is a possibility with each one of those letters that that particular person could be shifted or moved or could be offered an opportunity to have severance in some kind of way," he said.

"We don't know that, but we're not talking about massive layoffs. We're talking about difficult and sometimes scary challenges that we have to make to make our school system work."

Dr. Amprey said he regrets that the letter has driven a wedge between him and the 8,500-member teachers union, but called the coming shake-up necessary, if painful.

"I'm not trying to pick a fight, but I got to do what I think is important from my perspective, and my job is to protect the school system," he said. "I mean, I'm not in the business of working in the best interest of the union, although I certainly don't want to alienate the union. I don't want to alienate anybody, but I got to do my job."

He denied the union's assertion that the letter represented an attempt to influence the outcome of often-bitter contract negotiations and to exact revenge for labor's high-profile fight against school privatization. "I didn't design it to slap anyone in the face, but that's part of what comes from this job," he said.

Predicting more division as the system moves toward identifying those who will be targeted in the shake-up, the superintendent added, "Things are going to get a little worse before they get better."

Irene Dandridge, the teachers union president, declined to comment yesterday, saying she planned to deliver her response at a rally against Dr. Amprey at 4:30 p.m. today outside school headquarters on North Avenue. Other city unions plan to join the rally, to be followed by a protest march to City Hall.

Meanwhile, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, hoping to ease tensions, has scheduled a meeting for tomorrow night with the superintendent and leaders of the BTU.

As the district moves toward school-based management, school system officials say, some principals may decide to eliminate teachers who specialize in certain areas, such as teaching "gifted-and-talented" students. That could result in reassignments or layoffs, they say.

Budget adjustments, which will depend in part on how big a raise results from current contract negotiations, also will have a bearing on how many employees are reassigned or laid off, Dr. Amprey said.

In his letter, he said Deputy Superintendent Patsy B. Blackshear would discuss reassignments or severance pay and benefits with affected employees "in the next few days."

The superintendent's letter said the changes would affect all union bargaining units -- groups that represent teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, secretaries and maintenance workers, among others.

The letter marked the first time Dr. Amprey has publicly raised the possibility of systemwide layoffs.

In April, Dr. Amprey announced a "major, major shake-up" that he said could result in hundreds of headquarters employees being demoted or moved to other jobs as the school system shifts more authority, money and staff members from headquarters to individual schools.

He told his 177 principals that he's giving them more autonomy to run their schools by letting them control $32 million now controlled by school headquarters.

Decentralization, which began with 24 experimental "enterprise schools" this year, will give individual schools much more say in spending for libraries, janitorial staff, teacher training, programs and other services.

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