Teachers' ballots on work to rule due today in Carroll

Union to present results to school board tomorrow

Community response split

October 08, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Michele Becker never thought teaching would be a 9-to-5 breeze. But in the 10 years she's been at it, she has felt the workload grow and her voice in shaping Carroll County's educational policies shrink.

Every year seems to have brought another standardized test for her fourth-graders at Linton Springs Elementary, with no support staff added to help. This year, she learned of newly required lessons she'd have to teach, just three days before the children arrived.

Becker and most other teachers at Eldersburg's Linton Springs say they've had enough. In August, they became the first in a parade of faculties at 11 Carroll schools to launch a work-to-rule action, meaning teachers are working more closely to the terms and hours of their contracts and refusing to take on extracurricular activities. And if enough Carroll teachers agree in a vote that ends today, the job action could expand to all county schools.

Labor demonstrations by teachers typically occur during contract negotiations, providing leverage in the quest for higher salaries. But Carroll teachers, who signed a contract for the next two years, say they're fighting not for money but for a better work environment and more influence on policy-making.

The complaint strikes a chord with teachers everywhere.

"We're watching what's happening in Carroll, and I don't think it's a surprise at all," said Patricia A. Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. "We've had just one thing after another added to our duties, but despite the huge new responsibilities, we're not given any new time or resources to support it."

"We all have a workload issue," said Sheila M. Finlayson, president of the teachers union in Anne Arundel County. "More and more keeps being put on the plates of teachers without any additional time to do things."

Carroll County teachers say they want parents and administrators to realize that they already work far beyond the bounds of their contracts, and that if the burdens don't ease, they'll be unable to educate children properly.

"Right now, we're performing our jobs adequately, at best, and it just gets harder every year," Becker said. "Soon, we won't be able to do it."

Many administrators and parents seem confused by the sudden uprising.

"We feel like this has come out of the blue, and it's hard to solve problems when you don't know what they are," Carroll school board President Susan W. Krebs said.

Krebs said few teachers have taken advantage of opportunities the board has offered them to give input on policy making.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has called the union irresponsible for promoting the work-to-rule action when 80 percent of its members approved a new contract just last month.

"The board must balance the needs of the school system with available funds," he wrote in a letter to The Sun.

Parents seem conflicted.

"We support the teachers, but we wonder what kind of message they're sending to the kids when they say they can't help with certain things because they're outside the contract," said Claire Kwiatkowski, president of the county council of PTAs. "All of us feel unappreciated in our jobs sometimes, but we keep doing what we do and hope some good comes of it."

`A much better system'

Teachers realize they face a difficult sell with parents and administrators. They don't have a specific list of demands and can't say exactly which response from administrators might end the work-to-rule movement.

"We're trying to say that if they listen to us, it will be a much better system in the long run," said Ralph Blevins, a 29-year veteran of the school system who teaches at North Carroll Middle School and once led the teachers union. "But we can't offer a single answer."

Teachers say their jobs have grown much harder over the years. Federal and state requirements ask them to blend children with physical, mental and emotional disabilities into the classroom. They've had to implement barrages of standardized tests, designed to increase accountability in education. Teachers say that whenever a new requirement is added, an old one should be eliminated so the overall workload doesn't increase.

Others complain that they have to do clerical work every day because of the shortage of secretaries.

High school teachers say they're tired of hearing about colleagues in other systems who get thousands of dollars in stipends for running clubs such as the National Honor Society, services Carroll teachers traditionally have provided for free. Special education teachers at all levels say they could work 24 hours a day and still not complete all the paperwork required by federal, state and county laws.

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