Teachers protest tentative new contract

School board hears disappointment over pay

August 15, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

About 115 Carroll County teachers turned out last night at the school board meeting in a show of disappointment and anger over the tentative contract agreement reached Monday by their union and the board providing raises of 4 percent over a two-year period while requiring them to pay a greater share of health insurance premiums.

Teachers in the standing-room crowd applauded, cried and waved signs as young and veteran educators alike vowed to "work to contract" and do their jobs only during the hours for which they are paid and decline extra assignments they had taken on in previous years without extra pay.

"I'm trying to find the words to express how I feel about all the things that have happened in the last few months. I'm disappointed and hurt at the lack of respect you have shown for the hard-working professionals who put in above and beyond, seven days a week, 365 days a year," said Deb Kiley, a fifth-grade teacher at Sandymount Elementary, eyes filling with tears and voice cracking with emotion.

"I'm done. I can't do it anymore," she told the board. "My family comes first. I'll work to my contract but I'm not doing all the extras. Even if the PTA wants us to, I'm not coming back for book club, math night, reading night - none of it. You need to start treating us like the respected professionals we are, and you need to compensate us appropriately."

Many of the teachers who spoke, and others interviewed before the meeting at the system's administrative offices, said they felt unappreciated and taken for granted by board members who chose to use the school system's limited budget increase from the county to hire new staff, rather than pay for 3 percent raises negotiated in earlier, tentative contract agreements.

After tentative agreements with four of five bargaining units were reached this spring, negotiations between them and the school board stalled. Board members cut their proposed spending plan in June to align it with county budget allocations, eliminating all but about $2.7 million of the $6.6 million that had been set aside for raises. Instead, they poured about $2.6 million into new staff and programs to finalize the $206.9 million budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Board President Susan W. Krebs has defended the board's decision and did again last night. "It was a very difficult budget year for all of us, and it breaks my heart to hear people think we don't care about teachers, because that's why we're all here," she said at the meeting.

But board members made clear, "from the very first throes of the budget process," Krebs said, that they would give priority to hiring staff to catch up with growth in a system that had gained 550 students in two years without adding positions.

She disputed teachers' claims that the board's actions decreased average class size by eight-tenths of a student, saying, "That's not necessarily accurate. I've never heard that number before."

The number was provided by Gregory Eckles, the school district's high schools director, who told the board in June at a budget work session that hiring 13 high school teachers - as the board decided to do - would reduce the average class size from 27.7 students to 26.9.

The contract proposal - which also would limit the number of unused sick days that teachers can cash out at retirement, goes before union members for consideration.

Cindy Wheeler, president of the Carroll County Education Association, the local teachers union, as well as Don Abbey, chairman of the union's bargaining team and 31-year veteran of Carroll schools, promised to do all they could to get the tentative contract ratified by the 1,400-member union.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said salary increases would be retroactive, no matter what date teachers ratify the contract.

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