Ecker, teachers agree on concerns

Task force work issues `legitimate,' resolvable, he says after meeting

Carroll County

October 30, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

After meeting for two hours yesterday with the task force appointed to suggest ways to improve working conditions for Carroll County public school teachers, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said yesterday evening that he likely will be able to address teachers' concerns and end a nearly three-month work-to-rule job action occurring at a third of the county's schools.

"I think most teachers want to try to resolve this," Ecker said in an interview after yesterday's closed meeting. "They have some legitimate concerns and I'm going to try to address them."

Upset with their workload and a deal with lesser pay raises made after the school board failed to ratify a tentative contract agreement reached in spring, some teachers have decided to work more closely to the terms of their contracts and to boycott before- and after-school activities.

The work-to-rule job action, which began at Eldersburg's Linton Springs Elementary in August and spread to 11 other schools, has left some clubs without advisers and required parents to fill in as chaperons and ticket-takers at dances and athletic events.

A panel of 10 teachers and four school administrators was appointed this month to identify issues raised by the work-to-rule job protest and suggest solutions.

Task force co-chairman Gregory Bricca, the school system's assessment and accountability supervisor, said he plans to revise a progress report submitted to Ecker last week and get the updated document to the superintendent "within a day or so."

Teachers' requests

During yesterday's meeting, Ecker said, teachers asked for more choices in the workshops they attend throughout the year for in-school training and asked for time at the end of each marking period to calculate students' grades, prepare report cards and get ready for the next academic quarter.

"Some people end one quarter one day and they have 100 new kids the next day in a new course. They need more time," he said.

"And I agree that staff development [training] should be based on the needs of teachers. I think that's happening, but I don't know. I'll find out," Ecker said. "Sometimes I feel quarantined in here - people tell me what they think I want to hear and I need to know what's happening."

Teachers also asked for technological improvements - more computers, replacement machines when old computers become outdated and technicians to keep them running properly.

Ecker said he agrees: "We do not have a [computer] replacement schedule and we should, and we need people to maintain our existing computers."

Task force members also expressed frustration with the lack of communication between school officials in the district's administrative offices and teachers in the county's 37 elementary, middle and high schools.

They asked for quarterly meetings at which school representatives could meet with Ecker and his staff - a request the superintendent said he can easily oblige.

"There is a lot that we can do, that I can do," he said. "And I will."

Contentious road

The meeting was a sharp contrast to prior interactions stemming from this year's contentious contract negotiations and the work-to-rule protest.

In August, two days after the school board and teachers union tentatively agreed to a new contract that included 4 percent raises over two years, more than 115 educators turned out at a board meeting in a show of disappointment and anger.

A day later, teachers say, the situation was exacerbated when school board President Susan W. Krebs was quoted in a newspaper article saying that unhappy teachers should "go somewhere else."

Two weeks later, teachers at Linton Springs Elementary became the first to boycott work beyond their contractual obligations, refusing to plan lessons at home, grade papers in the evening or attend after-school activities for which they weren't paid.

Eleven schools joined the protest - even after union members overwhelmingly approved the new contract - and union leaders four weeks ago asked their members to join the protest and support a countywide demonstration. At the time, Ecker called the request "irresponsible."

The vote failed after 60 percent of the union's 1,450 members -short of the 75 percent union leaders sought - approved expanding the job action.

But the level of discontent was deemed significant enough that union officials and Ecker agreed to appoint a task force to identify teachers' concerns and suggest ways to resolve them.

Happy with progress

Ecker said he is pleased with the progress the task force has made - refining nebulous complaints of feeling unappreciated and overworked into a manageable list of issues over which he has control - and with the convivial manner in which the group has worked.

"We had a very positive meeting," he said. "We had a frank and honest discussion and there was a very positive, can-do atmosphere in the room."

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