School cuts in pay may go unrecovered Amprey plans memo to workers on salary reduction proposal

Deficit at $32 million

10-day docking bid creates employee 'chaos,' union charges

January 26, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Two days after raising the possibility of a salary deferment for employees, Baltimore's top school official said yesterday that he was not sure whether the school system could repay its workers for a 10-day pay cut he has proposed to help cover a budget deficit.

School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who is planning to issue a memo to employees today explaining the need for the pay cuts, said there were legal and financial questions that needed to be resolved before the school system could defer any lost employee wages until the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"I think it's safe to say it's up in the air," he said of the wage deferral. "Right now, it's what I would like to do."

But the school superintendent, who laid off 66 employees in December as part of a struggle to close a $32 million budget gap, warned that the alternative would be "more layoffs."

Dr. Amprey's comments drew a sharp response from the Baltimore Teachers' Union, which accused the school system of creating "total chaos among its employees."

"Why announce something until they have all the i's dotted and the t's crossed?" asked Linda Prudente, a teachers' union spokeswoman. "I don't understand what he's talking about anymore."

As for the possibility of more layoffs, Ms. Prudente said: "Until we see something concrete, I don't know what we'll say."

The teachers' union contends salary deferments are in fact a form of furloughs prohibited by its contract with the city, and Ms. Prudente said yesterday that the union would seek a court order to prevent them.

For a teacher with 12 years of experience, the average in Baltimore's schools, a 10-day loss of pay would cost $1,695.40, based on an annual salary of $36,621 and 216 workdays over 10 months, she said.

The school system has estimated that a 10-day pay cut would result in savings of $10 million.

Meanwhile, Ms. Prudente said the teachers' union was polling members school by school on whether they wanted to "work to rule," a tactic in which unionized workers do exactly what is specified in their contract and no more.

For example, she said, the contract requires teachers to come to work 10 minutes before the start of school.

"Most teachers don't do that. They arrive an hour earlier to put their lessons on the board," she said.

The teachers' union also is planning to rally to protest the proposed salary cuts in front of City Hall on Monday with the City Union of Baltimore, which represents 500 secretarial and clerical workers.

"You can't balance the budget on the backs of teachers," Ms. Prudente said.

But Dr. Amprey said yesterday that the deficit was so large that the school system has to "do some kind of salary reductions."

His preference would be either to defer one day of pay for each of the last 10 pay periods or to have workers forgo their last two weeks of pay this academic year, Dr. Amprey said, and have the money repaid in the new budget year beginning July 1.

But he said the idea, which could create a budget problem next year, was being reviewed by city lawyers and finance officials.

"I have not gotten the approval from the city's finance officer," he said.

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