Teachers fear reorganization Changes: Faculty in the Baltimore County community system show interest in unions.

The Education Beat

September 22, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

DANIEL J. LaVISTA is doing his bit for faculty militancy in the Baltimore County community college system. But that's not his intention.

LaVista is the chancellor of the system, and the fear and dread caused by his reorganization plans are prompting normally passive teachers to utter the "U" word -- for unionization.

LaVista and his board of trustees are in the midst of Phase II of a plan to make the system, which serves about 80,000 students a year, more cost-efficient. Already 99 employees have accepted buyouts. On the horizon is an increase in part-time, or "adjunct," faculty, people who cost less because they enjoy no fringe benefits. Ultimately, the teachers fear the elimination of tenure, or lifetime job protection, although thus far LaVista has talked about changing tenure rules only for newly hired faculty, and he says, "We don't intend to reduce faculty."

Employees also fear that LaVista will transfer staff from one side of the county to the other as he consolidates operations. Some transfers already have occurred.

All of these are what LaVista, 52, calls the faculty "chestnuts." They're also issues that lead people to the welcoming arms of unions. And they come on top of years of financial cutbacks at Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex community colleges that have seen some people without raises for half a decade.

Thus, the Federation of Maryland Teachers and Public Employees, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO American Federation of Teachers, reports a number of calls from the three county campuses. And the American Association of University Professors chapter at Essex Community College reportedly is showing signs of renewal.

LaVista, who came to Towson a year ago from suburban Chicago, concedes that Phase II of the reorganization "is going to be tough on some people."

"None of the campuses is ready for this amount of detail," he says. "People tend to think in generalities and act in detail. But we have a good plan, and it's on schedule. Some people are going to scream, but in the long run we'll have a much stronger system."

Support employees at the county campuses are unionized, but Baltimore City Community College is the state's only college to have had faculty collective bargaining. It ended six years ago when the state took over the college.

No proof exists of benefit of uniforms

Long before President Clinton endorsed the practice, Baltimore was a pioneer in the public school uniform movement. The uniform became something of a school fashion craze when Clinton, in his 1996 State of the Union message, declared that "if it means that teen-agers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms."

School officials across the nation reported uniforms increased self-esteem and improved attendance and classroom behavior. But, as is the case with a lot of highly touted practices and programs in education, there has been little research to bolster these claims. Indeed, the Harvard Education Letter reported recently that a study of Washington schools produced no evidence that uniforms affected behavior or achievement.

Perhaps the "halo effect" is at work here, the Harvard publication suggested. Uniforms may simply make adults think the kids wearing them are better behaved and smarter.

Is that good or bad?

Restructured board proposed by coalition

Gadfly civic activist A. Robert Kaufman and his City-Wide Coalition have an intriguing suggestion.

As long as we're going to restructure Baltimore school management, he says, why not have members of a new board selected by the major constituencies? For example, the Baltimore Teachers Union might elect three union representatives. The Parent Teachers Association might elect two parents. The City Council and the schools' maintenance staff each might have a representative.

Such an arrangement, Kaufman says, "could initiate real local control where teachers, parents, students, staff and community

activists could unite and make real decisions."

Had the maintenance staff been represented on the board, Kaufman adds, the sad state of the city's school boilers might have been flagged earlier, preventing June's scalding accident at Hazelwood Elementary School.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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