Teachers halt protest of plan to dock them 10 days of pay Schmoke has pledged not to implement proposal

February 03, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Teachers and school aides ended yesterday their work-to-rule protest against the Baltimore school system's on-again, off-again plan to dock employees 10 days of pay to balance the budget.

Participation in the three-day Baltimore Teachers Union job action was mixed, in part because of confusion caused by city officials' contradictory announcements earlier in the week. In addition, some union members declined to boycott after-school student activities that they had pledged to organize or attend.

Union officials also canceled yesterday five days of protests scheduled for next week. Those protests were to include a rally co-sponsored by the City Union of Baltimore. That union represents school secretaries and clerical workers, along with other city employees.

The teachers union launched the protests Wednesday despite assurances from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke beginning Jan. 26 that neither salary deferments nor furloughs would be used to balance the school system's budget, which had a deficit of as much as $32 million before it was reduced to $23 million in the fall by layoffs.

Until it received a letter confirming Mr. Schmoke's pledge yesterday, however, the union did not call off its protest.

"We are not going to pursue teacher furloughs as a strategy in balancing the budget for this fiscal year," Mr. Schmoke's letter said.

The mayor made the same promise during his re-election campaign last summer, a promise that would have been broken if the school administration had proceeded with the salary deferment. Union leaders consider a deferment a variation of a furlough.

Despite the mayor's assurances last week, many school employees received notices from Superintendent Walter G. Amprey on Tuesday informing them that they would lose a day's pay from each of 10 paychecks. Dr. Amprey said he planned to use next fiscal year's budget to repay the employees.

The same day, that plan's potential to harm the city's bond rating became public and Mr. Schmoke said he would include all city agencies in the cuts needed to resolve his administration's budget shortfall. He was out of town yesterday.

"This is a very dangerous game," Irene B. Dandridge, the teachers union president, said at a news conference yesterday. "I think the mayor and the school superintendent ought to get their acts together so they are saying the same thing."

The school system notified employees of possible salary deferments a few days before top administrators went to Annapolis to try to win back $5.9 million in school aid withheld by the General Assembly in an attempt to prompt changes in school management. Legislators have not voted on whether to restore the funds.

By yesterday, some teachers and union officials were suggesting that they had been used as pawns in a larger game. Others criticized the mixed signals given by city leaders.

"I think this was a ploy," Mrs. Dandridge said. "I think maybe the school system floated the idea as a trial balloon to see whether the teachers would be willing to come to the table to negotiate a salary deferment.

"We would never do that. We don't trust them to repay it."

The work-to-rule protest was the union's first job action since contract negotiations in 1991-1992, union officials said. The BTU represents 6,800 teachers and 1,300 school aides and other paraprofessionals.

The City Union of Baltimore will continue to press the mayor to look at alternatives to cutting jobs or salaries as he searches for savings in the city budget, Chester D. Wilton, president of the 6,500-member union, said yesterday. The union also represents clerical workers, 911 operators, inspectors and crossing guards.

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