Teachers decline contract actions

Union majority too slim for countywide sanction of work-to-rule efforts

Carroll County

October 10, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

The union representing Carroll County teachers will not support a countywide work-to-contract job action, union officials said yesterday after the membership failed to vote to expand protests in place at several schools.

In announcing the results of the vote, union leaders said a committee of teachers and school administrators would begin meeting next week to explore issues raised by teachers who have launched work-to-rule protests at at least 12 Carroll schools.

Sixty percent of the teachers polled by the 1,450-member Carroll County Education Association said they would support an expansion of the job action, in which teachers are boycotting extracurricular activities to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with working conditions.

But union officials had said they would back a countywide protest only if three-quarters of the membership approved.

"We're a democratic organization. When we make broad statements it's important we know we're speaking for a vast majority. But we didn't reach that threshold," said union official Hal Fox.

Work-to-contract demonstrations in place will likely continue, said Cindy Wheeler, union president.

"We had very strong support in some schools," she said.

"We want the public to understand we are facing some educational issues and working conditions that are affecting the quality of instruction for our students. These things need to be addressed."

County schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said he was encouraged by the results of the vote, and said he expects the committee to find answers.

"This is a hopeful sign. Teachers see that we're sincere about trying to find out their issues," he said. "I hope the committee will specify and resolve their issues."

The committee, to be made up of 10 teachers and four administrators from schools, will begin meeting Monday to draft a report that is to identify teachers' concerns and recommend solutions, Fox said. That committee is to submit its initial report to the teachers union and the school board by Oct. 24, he added.

The union official said that possible solutions include eliminating some standardized tests or adding support staff to schools.

"We are willing to take steps to resolve this constructively. But we're also tired of endless promises and no action taken," he said.

Hopeful sign

Claire Kwiatkowski, president of the county council of PTAs, said formation of the committee was a hopeful sign, but she said parents feel conflicted about the teachers' protest.

"We've been saying for years the teachers are completely overloaded, but teachers should do something else that doesn't affect kids," she said.

Last week, the union sent memos asking teachers at all schools to support a countywide work-to-rule action.

"Actions may range from strict adherence to requirements of the contract, to simply starting and/or ending the regular workday at the prescribed time(s), to declining to volunteer for activities which take place outside the contracted day," the memo reads.

The work-to-rule action, the first of its type in Carroll in at least 20 years, began in August at Linton Springs Elementary in Eldersburg. Teachers have worked more closely to the terms of their contract, refusing before- and after-school activities for which they are not paid.

The teachers said the move was to protest a workload that has increased over the years. Duties such as advising clubs, preparing students for additional standardized tests and chaperoning after-school events, teachers said, consumed a large chunk of their day.

"I feel like I'm moving at the speed of light and my kids aren't getting what they need," said Maureen Olson, a teacher at Westminster East Middle School who is refusing to chaperon school events for the first time in her five years there.

Disappointed with vote

Of the union membership's vote, she said, "I'm disappointed teachers weren't willing to support a united front."

When the union asked members to support a countywide job action, Ecker called the action irresponsible.

Such demonstrations typically occur during contract talks as part of a fight for higher salaries, but Carroll teachers last month ratified an agreement by an 80 percent vote.

That agreement was reached after difficult contract negotiations during the summer.

A tentative agreement collapsed after school board members cut their proposed spending plan to align it with county budget allocations.

Hammered out with the help of a mediator, the second contract gave teachers the equivalent of a 4 percent raise over the next two years rather than the 3 percent annual raises tentatively approved in the first round.

Under the approved contract, next year's starting teacher's salary would be $33,289, up from $32,320 this year. More experienced teachers stand to make $67,493 next year, up from $65,527 this year.

The average Carroll teacher earns $46,840 a year.

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