Proposed city schools job cuts protested

Curriculum office staff says reduction unwise

May 02, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

A group of Baltimore school administrators and staff members protested at a public hearing yesterday a proposed cut in positions in the central office they say will hurt teaching.

The administrators and employees - all from the school district's curriculum instruction office - said the proposed reductions would be unwise, particularly at a time when the system is facing a reform of its high schools and a new state test next year.

Those who write the curriculum taught in schools and give new teachers training in how to teach it are among the employees whose positions may be eliminated. Those employees also make sure that what is taught in the classroom is in line with what the state requires.

If the changes go through, said Andrea R. Bowden, supervisor of science and health education, "we cannot possibly do what we have done before."

For instance, the person who arranges and oversees visits to cultural institutions in the city would be transferred, as would math, science and social studies specialists. Even a 22-year veteran of the system who tunes all the pianos in schools and oversees the inventory of new instruments would be reassigned.

In an interview after the hearing, Chief Academic Officer Cassandra Jones said that of the 200 people who work under her, she is proposing to move about 50 into schools or area offices that serve the schools.

"We are too top-heavy in central office," Jones said. "We need to take some of these resources at North Avenue and put them in the area offices and the schools."

Jones said every school would be given two coaches, who would work with new or struggling teachers in classrooms and "support the teachers in instruction."

The changes, she said, have been well-discussed among her senior staff and are part of a redesign that is aimed at providing schools with better services.

As a result, many of the people who work in the curriculum and instruction office - about half - have been told their jobs are being eliminated and that they must apply for another school system job.

"No one has a pink slip saying you don't have a job," Jones said.

But the effect would be devastating to some of the most dedicated staff at the central office, said Jill Warzer, music curriculum specialist. "Do we really want to lose this brain trust?"

Warzer said she has worked in the school district for five years, and in that time there have been three chief executive officers, three chief academic officers and two chief financial officers.

While all the upper-level positions continued to change, people in the curriculum and instruction office remained. "Perhaps it is this group of people who have been the glue who kept the progress going," she said. "Their insight and knowledge of schools really bears looking at."

Bowden, who has been recognized for her work in math and science curriculum, said she has essentially been told she can apply for a demotion, which would bring a reduction in salary.

"This will be the seventh time [in 15 years] I have had to reapply for a job I have already held," Bowden said.

This time, she said, she will not apply for the lesser position because she would be competing with those she now supervises and that would be unfair to them.

After hearing about a dozen people testify, Patricia L. Welch, school board chairwoman, said the proposal was not set in stone. She said the entire board doesn't yet have the details of the proposal.

"I think staff members are rightfully concerned about what their jobs will be and how much will be sacrificed because of the budget," Welch said, adding that she has some "real concerns."

Board member Camay Murphy also expressed concern at the reductions in staff overseeing the fine arts curriculum as the school system is expanding arts instruction.

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