Amprey seeks to dock employees 2 weeks' pay Schools chief cites budget shortfall

union vows court fight

January 24, 1996|By Rafael Alvarez and Jean Thompson | Rafael Alvarez and Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich also contributed to this article.

Telling principals that he has few choices left in meeting a looming budget deficit, Baltimore School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey is proposing to dock all employees two weeks of salary in a move teachers are calling illegal.

Said Dr. Amprey: "In all probability, there will be some kind of salary action, probably a deferment. We are looking at 10 days" of pay.

Reaction to the pending pay cuts was sharply critical last night.

"I'm astounded that the city is using a supposed emergency to arrange its finances. The city taxes its employees when it can't find other sources of revenue," said Joel Smith, an attorney with the Baltimore Teachers Union, which said it would file for an injunction against the move. "We'll invite the courts to manage the Baltimore City public school system's finances for it."

The proposal, which would deduct one day of pay from every school employee's check for 10 consecutive paydays, starting in late February, is being considered to deal with a budget shortfall estimated at $32 million. It comes on top of a projected $9.2 million deficit in the city's $803.6 million operating fund.

The idea was explained Monday afternoon to principals from the city's 184 schools by Henry Raymond, the school system's chief financial officer. He also told principals they must cut their schools' budgets.

That won't save enough to cover the estimated $32 million shortfall, Dr. Amprey said. The plan to dock pay would meet the rest.

"Henry said to them, also, that in all probability we would have to do some form of salary reduction or deferment," said Dr. Amprey, adding that a systemwide memo would be sent out tomorrow explaining the move.

"There are some things that require negotiation. We'll meet with the union [today]. We are not using the word furlough at all, and we are not going to do furloughs."

Court is 'very clear'

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the city would heed a 1993 court ruling that forbids wage furloughs to cope with budget shortfalls, saying: "The court has been very clear about what we can do when you have a shortfall, and we're going to do that."

the city in the past -- are exactly how the move is being perceived by employees. A furlough would violate the current contract between the city and school system employees.

name is a furlough," said Linda Prudente, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Teachers Union.

"As the collective bargaining agent, [the BTU] has to be involved in discussions about budget cuts or reduction in employee salaries, and we will fight this battle. We sued when they furloughed people in the '91-'92 school year, and the judge said you could not use furloughs to balance the budget."

Ms. Prudente said the union sent telegrams yesterday morning to both Mayor Schmoke and Dr. Amprey asking for an explanation, but did not hear anything back for most of the day. Not long before a school board committee meeting scheduled last night, however, the teachers' union did hear from Dr. Amprey.

Apology is sought

"He said [the news] should not have gone out the way it did, and we have asked him to send a letter of apology to school system employees," Ms. Prudente said.

Teachers and other school employees believe that an apology is in order because their livelihoods were being discussed without their being involved.

"I think they'll probably try to shove this down our throat," said Nancy Malone, who teaches special education in East Baltimore. "It would have shown some respect for teachers to have been consulted, for us to offer some other ways to handle this."

She explained: "It's interesting that it happens after we've been promised a 5 percent raise. Was this all an election-year hoax? They keep talking about how education is so important. Obviously they don't think so."

In 1992, almost all of Baltimore's 26,300 municipal workers, except for firefighters and fire officers, gave up pay in a wage furlough as the city struggled to cope with major cuts in state aid.

Three unions sue

Three of the city's largest municipal labor unions sued after Mayor Schmoke announced the plan to withhold a half-day's pay from workers' salaries for 10 pay periods. The wage furlough was halted after the state restored some aid.

Claims in the lawsuit by the BTU, the City Union of Baltimore and the Fraternal Order of Police were upheld in U.S. District Court, but rejected when the city appealed.

After the unions appealed -- and the case was sent back to District Court -- the city settled with the unions in November 1994.

Under the settlement, the city agreed to repay a little more than half of the 2 1/2 days of pay that workers sacrificed. The agreement cost the city about $3.9 million.

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