City teachers are angered by pact proposals Added work days, longer hours sought in contract offer

Protest rally planned

Dispute could harm reform efforts in Baltimore schools

October 14, 1997|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

Already upset over a state-mandated change in the way the city's 6,500 teachers are evaluated, Baltimore Teachers Union leaders are angry over sweeping contract changes proposed last week by the new city school board that would force teachers to work more days and longer hours and cut their sick time.

Union leaders, who are pushing for a hefty across-the-board pay raise, plan a protest rally at 5: 30 this afternoon outside the school board meeting at North Avenue headquarters.

Board members and interim schools chief Robert E. Schiller refuse to comment specifically on the contract talks or the protest, saying they will not "conduct negotiations through the press." They say only that they are negotiating with the "best interests of the district's 108,000 children in mind."

Some education experts say the dispute, which has already produced a "work-to-rule" action by the union, threatens to hamstring the ambitious reforms being introduced in city schools this year.

Reward or empower teachers and watch them embrace reforms, these experts say. Distract them with labor disputes, and watch them participate grudgingly, or worse, not go along at all, they say.

"If you don't have teachers on board in a professional sense, I don't see any way you can get any real reform accomplished," said Chris Pipho, a spokesman for the Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit nationwide clearinghouse for education issues. "That doesn't mean you give them everything they want, but it may mean modifying the thinking on both sides to broker peace.The places that have been successful at reform have done this, and the unsuccessful ones have not."

The current dispute arose from the initial proposals made by the union and the board in talks on a new pact for the city's teachers, who have been working without a contract for 3 1/2 months.

The union's proposal centered on an across-the-board pay raise intended to bring city teacher salaries closer to parity with those of suburban instructors. Union President Marcia Brown declined to specify how much of a raise the teachers requested. But some sources placed it as high as 27 percent over three years.

The board proposed a smaller raise -- about 7 percent over four years -- that would be distributed among teachers at the board's discretion.

Under the board's proposal, teachers at the lower levels of the scale -- who make considerably less than their suburban counterparts -- would get the bulk of the new money. Teachers at the upper levels of the scale -- who already have salaries comparable to suburban teachers' -- would get less.

The raises would come out of a pot of $230 million in new state aid the city is receiving over the next five years to fund school operations -- $30 million this year and $50 million in each of the next four years. Another $24 million in aid is earmarked for construction and renovation.

In outlining its initial salary proposal, the board also unveiled a list of changes it would like to make in the union contract. Its goal: to bring work rules, perks and other benefits in line with those of other area teachers.

The board wants to lengthen the school day and the school year and require teachers to attend weekly staff meetings and monthly professional development activities.

The board also wants to reduce teachers' sick days from 15 a year to 10 and to eliminate the current allowable "cash conversion" of three sick days each year.

"I think one thing we have to keep in mind here is the opportunity for the board to revisit the entire contract during these talks," said schools chief Schiller. "This is a time when they can look at what kinds of terms are in the best in- terest of carrying out their objectives for reform in the schools."

Teachers in the district have been working since June 30 under an expired contract and are entering their second consecutive school year without a pay raise.

Contract talks initially stalled over a state-mandated change in the teacher performance evaluation system: The state legislation that created the city-state-led school reform says the system must be in place before any new state money for city schools can be spent on teacher pay raises.

Progress is being made on performance evaluation, and both sides decided to make initial proposals on pay as a gesture of good faith. Both describe their proposals as "opening bids" that they don't expect to see untouched in the final agreement.

But the union has reacted with outrage to the board's proposed changes in work rules and perks, and some teachers say they believe the intent of the reform effort is to punish them, rather than to improve schools.

"I think this proposal is just horrifying," said Peter French, a teacher at John Ruhrah Elementary in southeast Baltimore. "This is not the message that will help get us on board. Instead, thissounds like the ideas of people who think teachers are the problem in this system. It sounds like it's about revenge."

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