Schools chief gets task force suggestion list

47 proposals are offered to improve teachers' working conditions

Ecker to respond by Nov. 19

Meddling and budget cuts by officials, training, technicians among issues

October 31, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

They want to be paid for more of the time they spend preparing for the school day. They want to decide how to use planning time on afternoons when students are dismissed early. Carroll teachers also want the school board and district administrators to butt out of school decisions on spending, curriculum and student discipline.

These recommendations were among the 47 proposals submitted yesterday to Superintendent Charles I. Ecker by a task force appointed to suggest ways to improve working conditions for Carroll County public school educators.

"These are concerns that have been around for years and years," teachers union President Cindy Wheeler said. "If he acts on them, people would feel they could do the job that they need to do."

The panel of 10 teachers and four administrators was named this month to identify teacher complaints raised by the work-to-rule job action at a dozen county schools and to offer suggestions.

Wheeler said she hopes the superintendent will "seriously and earnestly consider the teachers' very legitimate concerns and possible solutions."

After meeting with the group Tuesday afternoon, Ecker said in an interview that he likely will be able to address teachers' concerns and end the nearly 3-month-old job action at a third of the county's schools, where some teachers are working more closely to the terms of their contracts and boycotting extracurricular activities for which they are not paid.

Ecker said yesterday that he will respond to the task force's report by Nov. 19, letting members know "what general steps ... will be taken to help resolve the concerns."

Task force members divided their recommendations into six areas: resource allocation; site-based vs. systemwide decisions; technology and building maintenance; lack of communication throughout the school system; student grading; curriculum development; and staff training.

Panel members offered 24 suggestions that they said could be acted upon immediately, from reducing the number of county-mandated exams given to students to hiring more computer technicians to repair computers more quickly than the current one- to two-month waiting period.

They also proposed a dozen ideas that could be enacted within six months to a year, including giving elementary school teachers the option of computerizing report cards, finding more and better-quality substitute teachers, and allotting enough time within the school day for teachers to complete report cards and interim reports.

They recommended 11 long-term suggestions that tended to be less tangible and more expensive. Among them were hiring clerical assistants for each grade level at each school (181 people), increasing "public support" for teachers, and not settling for the school district's current rank as 24th among the state's 24 school systems in staff-to-student ratios.

Of particular concern was what teachers described as interference by the school board or officials at the district's administrative offices in decisions that they say should be left to school principals and teachers.

Task force members asked administrators to stop cutting school budgets in the middle of the school year "when the cuts will have a direct and negative effect on student progress." That has been an issue twice in the past two years when Ecker has frozen or reduced school spending midyear to help cover projected shortfalls.

They expressed frustration over the "current direction to steer away from school-based decision making and instead mandate systemwide policies" and the "constant new visions or programs to implement." The report mentioned, in particular, a school board decision in June to require a five-tiered grading scale - forcing North Carroll High School to end its eight-year practice of requiring students to earn at least a C or fail.

They complained of school board members meddling in sensitive decisions such as whether a student caught drinking should be kicked out of the National Honor Society and whether a failing student should be allowed to progress to the next grade level.

"Those kinds of decisions don't come easily and they involve a lot of research and soul-searching," said Wheeler, president of the 1,450-member Carroll County Education Association. "The board should not overturn those decisions because that's the kind of decision that is and should be made at the school level in the best interests of the child."

The task force met twice on its own, working to refine teachers' complaints of feeling unappreciated and overworked into a manageable list of issues over which Ecker has control, before meeting Tuesday with the superintendent to discuss the group's progress.

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