City won't dock teachers Schmoke scuttles plan to withhold pay of school employees

Union begins job action today

Mayor aims to spread $23 million deficit among all agencies

January 31, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Mike Bowler and JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

City officials have scuttled a plan to dock school employees 10 days' pay and have begun to look elsewhere for savings to bridge a $23 million gap in the Baltimore school budget.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will meet with his budget advisers this week in an attempt to spread the burden of the deficit to all city agencies. The savings will range from a reduction in purchases to possible layoffs as a last resort, said Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for Mr. Schmoke.

The city already has advised bond-rating houses that Baltimore will not proceed with the pay deferment plan in an attempt to cope with the budget shortfall, Mr. Coleman said. The bond-rating houses had threatened to lower Baltimore's credit rating if the city simply put off the deficit for another year by deferring salaries.

The city's initial intention was to reimburse the workers for the lost wages. But last week, school officials cast doubt over whether the salaries would ever be repaid.

Mr. Schmoke's intervention came as the Baltimore Teachers Union voted to begin a work-to-rule job action today. Employees were to arrive 10 minutes before school and leave 10 minutes after classes ended. They also would refuse to proctor after-school clubs and other extracurricular activities.

The union had protested the plan to withhold salaries to help pay for the school budget deficit. Layoffs last fall had reduced the deficit to $23 million after it had climbed to $32 million.

In a further move to prevent its 8,500 members from losing pay, BTU lawyers were to seek an injunction in federal court today to stop the school system from withholding their salary.

Union officials said government officials have yet to present them with a final plan that would cause them to cancel their job action.

"I'll have to get something definitive in writing from the superintendent or the mayor before we call off what we're doing," said BTU President Irene B. Dandridge last night.

"This whole thing is a dispute about working for free," Ms. Dandridge said. "And we are letting the city, the public, parents and the superintendent know that we are really displeased about expecting us to work for free."

School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey last night urged the teachers union to postpone its work-to-rule plans. "I am hoping the teacher union will hold off and wait, recognizing the problems we're under, and give us some time to work this out," he said.

Ironically, most school employees yesterday received a memo informing them of the proposal to take one day of pay from each of their last 10 paychecks this fiscal year. But Dr. Amprey has asked them to ignore it.

Dr. Amprey said the mayor told him he hoped to have a plan together by early next week. The school system might still take a hit, Dr. Amprey said, but he hoped employee salaries would not have to be reduced.

The work-to-rule action was approved by teachers at 182 of the school system's 184 schools, said Linda D. Prudente, a BTU spokeswoman. She would not identify the two schools that did not vote in favor of the action, other than to say they were both high schools.

Sports will not be affected because coaches, unlike teachers, are paid to supervise after-school activities.

The job action is open-ended, Ms. Prudente said. Union officials will meet with representatives from each school at the end of February. "If something has changed we will be looking at it again," she said.

The job action will not harm the city schools' academic programs, said Nat Harrington, a school spokesman. But he said that some students may miss much-needed contact if their teachers are not in their classes before and after school.

"Given the needs of so many Baltimore children who live in poverty, it would be unfortunate for those children not to get what they need in the way of nurturing and attention from the teachers they depend on," he said.

Union officials said the job action will not have a negative impact on education. "It's going to make things a little bit more difficult for extracurricular activities," Ms. Prudente said. "But the education of the students will not be impacted and that's important."

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