Teachers ease pressure on Amprey

June 08, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore Teachers Union withdrew its call for school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's resignation last night after a 2 1/2 -hour closed-door meeting between the superintendent and union leaders.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had called the meeting to try to bring the two sides together in hopes of finding common ground in a union-led battle that has grown increasingly bitter in recent days.

Dr. Amprey emerged from the meeting, at BTU President Irene Dandridge's Howard County home, pledging to work more closely with the union to improve morale and deal with teachers' concerns.

"This is the first time there's been this much discord," Dr. Amprey said. "I think this meeting has gone a long way to eliminate discord."

Ms. Dandridge confirmed that the union agreed to withdraw the demand for Dr. Amprey's resignation and called the meeting "productive," but said she would withhold further comment until a news conference today. Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary, said Mr. Schmoke had no comment last night.

Dr. Amprey said he didn't realize how badly teachers' morale had plummeted.

"Most of what we talked about is that teachers don't think they're really valued and don't get the impression from me that I am focused on their needs," he said. "I agree teacher morale is low."

He provided few specifics on how he would respond, however, (( saying he needed to go to the school board first.

The meeting originally was to be at Mr. Schmoke's Ashburton home in Baltimore. But after reporters descended on the mayor's house, the meeting was secretly moved to Howard County.

The meeting came a day after about 250 protesters, led by the union, marched from school headquarters to City Hall chanting "The superintendent must go!"

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. 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.

The superintendent estimated Monday that 350 positions -- including 240 teaching posts -- could be affected by changes. After last night's meeting, he said he planned to proceed with the reorganization and stood by the May 26 letter.

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 acknowledged those concerns and pledged to work with the union to respond to them.

Of the bitter dispute, Dr. Amprey said, "I'm not going to tell you it's been fun. But at the same time, it kind of comes with this job. I'm still just as much committed to systemic change. We need to make changes for kids."

Often-bitter contract negotiations also have stalled after five months, and the union views Dr. Amprey's letter in part as an attempt to influence the outcome of contract talks while he seeks to increase his $125,000 salary to $150,000. Neither side ,, would comment last night on the negotiations.

The superintendent, now in his third year, has 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 that he hopes to notify all affected employees by June 30.

As the letter began landing in mailboxes, the 8,500-member BTU decried 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.

He 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.

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 the contract talks, also will have a bearing on how many employees are reassigned or laid off, Dr. Amprey said.

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

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

The letter marked the first time Dr. Amprey has publicly raised the possibility of system-wide 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.

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