250 protest impending layoffs, moves for school workers

June 07, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Norris P. West contributed to this article.

Infuriated by what they called Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's union-busting tactics and expansion of an unproven school privatization experiment, 250 protesters marched from school headquarters to City Hall yesterday chanting "The superintendent must go!"

Led by the Baltimore Teachers Union, school employees, parents and members of other city unions denounced a May 26 letter from Dr. Amprey to all 10,000 school system workers warning of a "considerable number" of reassignments and layoffs.

The superintendent estimated yesterday that 350 positions -- including 240 teaching posts -- may be affected by changes.

Protesters also accused him of continually expanding the role of for-profit Education Alternatives Inc. in city schools, taking millions in taxpayers' money from other schools to "subsidize" the company.

Yesterday, as staffers streamed out of the system's North Avenue headquarters at close of the day, they encountered a sea of signs: "Don't Give Our Schools Away to EAI." "Dr. Amprey: Save Our Schools -- Resign." "Don't sell our students to Wall Street Brokers."

The protesters stormed toward the revolving doors at the headquarters' front entrance, but school police officers repelled them, and they returned to the sidewalk for a boisterous rally.

On the pavement along the 200 block of E. North Ave. a blue coffin sat beneath a huge red-and-black banner that read, "Mourning the death of Public Schools in Baltimore City. Cause of Death: Privatization."

"What we have here is a superintendent who cares nothing about his employees," Loretta Johnson, president of the BTU's paraprofessional chapter, shouted into a microphone, drawing cheers. "We got a superintendent who came in here and instead of working with us decided to kick us in the tail and make us a scapegoat."

Across town last night, Dr. Amprey came under attack for his plan to let the operators of a Maine boarding school take over Patterson High. Minutes after students from the Hyde School in Bath, Maine, and from a public school it runs in New Haven, Conn., performed a show about Hyde, Patterson parents and students attacked.

Shouting, booing and cursing at the students and Hyde officials, about 150 Patterson parents and students said they want nothing to do with Hyde's unusual program stressing "character building" with heavy doses of values for students and their parents.

Hyde founder Joseph W. Gauld and Hyde students explained the school's philosophy and emphasis on a college-preparatory curriculum, sports, performing arts and community service. Many the audience dismissed Hyde as "brainwashing" and "mind control." Neither Dr. Amprey nor a representative from headquarters spoke at last night's meeting.

The Patterson plan needs state approval, which could come this week, because the school faces possible state takeover after years of worsening academic performance, dropout rates and attendance.

At yesterday rally, union leaders and teachers said Dr. Amprey has blamed them for failing schools, without taking into account what they view as real reasons: huge classes, a lack of adequate funding, low salaries, a breakdown in discipline

Dr. Amprey remained in his fourth-floor suite during the protest. Occasionally, he looked out the window. In an interview, he said he understood the consternation caused by his letter warning of layoffs. He pointed out that no layoffs may be needed. "We need teachers," he explained.

Against the backdrop of the heated protest, he said he would continue a rational approach as he moves to reorganize the city school system. He insisted that the protest would not deter him from proceeding with his sweeping changes.

Despite the bitter criticism aimed at him, Dr. Amprey said he was buoyed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's support.

The protests came a day after 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 has defended 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 8,500-member BTU denounced it as a "Memorial Day Massacre letter," then called for Dr. Amprey's resignation.

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.

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. Meanwhile, Mayor Schmoke, hoping to ease tensions, has scheduled a meeting for tonight 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.

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