Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

October 06, 2002

Educators must unite during a critical time

Much has been written and discussed regarding the decision of some Carroll County school system teachers to "work to their negotiated contract."

This means that these teachers will perform their teaching duties, but won't sponsor clubs or participate in activities outside of their seven-hour, 30-minute contract day. The decision by these teachers to "work to rule" is surprising because the renegotiated contract was approved by 80 percent of the teachers that voted. The contract was effective Aug. 30, 2002, retroactive to July 1, 2002.

Why is this happening? I'm not sure. From conversations with teachers, the reasons vary. Teachers feel frustrated, under-appreciated, and want people to be aware of the "extras" they perform without compensation.

With the full support of the board, I am taking action to identify and resolve teacher concerns. Many demands are placed on teachers. Some demands are under our control, but many are "mandated" by state and federal agencies.

The board must balance the needs of the school system with available funds. Do we provide additional teachers to reduce class size or competitive salaries? Do we purchase additional computers? Do we hire additional secretarial, custodial, or maintenance personnel? Do we purchase more textbooks and supplies so teachers don't have to use their own money to purchase them? The list goes on.

Carroll County teachers work with fewer resources than comparable counties in Maryland, yet produce outstanding results. We are currently ranked last out of the 24 public school systems in Maryland in staff per 1,000 students. This has become evident in 12 audits conducted in the last three years of departments in the system by the outside auditing firm of KPMG.

During the past two years, the board sacrificed additional positions to support the Governor's Salary Challenge providing a 5 percent pay increase for teachers. Other employees received 1 percent or 2 percent less. About half of the teachers received experience step increases that added, on average, 5 percent each year. Teachers received a 10 percent to 20 percent pay increase from July 1, 2000 to July 1, 2002.

While this increase doesn't convey the extent to which the Board values teachers, it is irresponsible to suggest the increase is "a pittance," as described by Cindy Cummings-Wheeler, president of the teachers' union. Our teacher salaries compare favorably with other Maryland counties.

Elementary teachers are on their way to 300 minutes of planning time per week. Combined with the annual 22 hours of collaborative planning time given by closing elementary schools eight half days a year, our elementary teachers have the most planning time in Maryland. Secondary teachers have as much as 450 minutes of weekly planning time.

Negotiations with bargaining units began in the fall of 2001. Tentative agreements were reached in the spring of 2002. These agreements were approved by employee groups and the Board. Every agreement included language that the agreement is contingent on full funding from the County. Without full funding, the Board can request renegotiations.

The budget was not fully funded. We decided we must continue to provide competitive salary increases, although not to the extent in the original tentative agreement, and provide critical additional positions including: 20 teachers to handle the increase in enrollment; 16 teachers to reduce the average class size to 20 in grades K to 2; 12 teachers to reduce class size in high schools; and additional guidance counselors.

There were renegotiations with three bargaining groups. With the help of a mediator, new tentative agreements were reached and approved with about 80 percent of the teachers that voted approving their agreement. In the two-year agreement, more than 50 percent of teachers received a step increase (range 2 percent to 8 percent each year). All teachers will receive a 2 percent increase February 2003, a 2 percent increase July 1, 2003, and a 2 percent increase in February 2004.

This is a critical period for the school system. The passing of Maryland's "Bridge to Excellence Act" and the Federal "No Child Left Behind" law will mean that more and higher standards must be met. All school system employees must work together with parents, businesses, and the community. The school system can do a lot to educate students. However, we can't do it alone. We must all work together.

Charles I. Ecker

Westminster

The writer is superintendent of Carroll County public schools.

Carroll's teachers in dire straits

I am a biology, chemistry, and human anatomy teacher, as well as the National Honor Society Advisor for Westminster High School.

I am writing in response the negative opinions about teachers in Carroll County. I would like to clarify that inaccurate perception.

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