School workers appeal to board to increase pay

Union pushes for raises for instructional assistants

`They are paid nothing'

Officials are questioning budget of $440.4 million

Howard County

January 31, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

With Howard County's political leaders questioning how to fund a proposed $440.4 million school budget for fiscal year 2004 - a 12.7 percent increase over 2003 - more than 50 teachers, schools employees and parents turned up at a budget hearing last night to argue that the finding more money for school salaries is vitally important.

The teachers and their supporters packed the room to tell school board members meeting at the Board of Education building that the system's power was in its people.

"The most important resource of the school system is its human resources," said Donna Schulze, an instructional assistant. Joe Staub, president of the Howard County Education Association, used a visual aid during his presentation - the pay stub of a first-year instructional assistant. The woman earned a net take-home pay of a little more than $200 a week.

Staub said reclassifying her job one level higher would increase her pay by about $11.75 a week. "Educational support professional salaries in Howard County are below market when compared to surrounding jurisdictions," he said.

Instructional assistants are educational support professionals - a term also used to describe health and science assistants, secretaries and media specialists. Two years ago, consultants recommended reclassifying these employees, which would increase their wages.

A group of more than 20 teachers and instructional assistants from Elkridge Elementary School gave Staub and other speakers in favor of reclassification a standing ovation.

"These poor assistants do just as much work as a teacher, if not more, and they are paid nothing," said Cheryl Rager, a third-grade teacher at Elkridge.

Though responsible for children, "our pay grade is lower than custodians," said Luci Gajewski, a third-grade assistant.

Other employees, including parent-pupil services workers and data clerks also got votes of support.

Presenter Liz Gates used props to illustrate the heavy workload of part-time data clerks. She showed the group a little bandage, representing the full-time data clerks at five high schools, and a big bandage representing the needs of the part-time clerks at the remaining schools.

Data clerks compile data from standardized tests, create schedules and produce report cards, although she said that their responsibilities total about 150 tasks.

"This time-consuming process takes more than half a day, and that is the only time allotted to part-time data clerks," Gates said.

"I can imagine there's always needs we just can't meet because even though people say we keep asking for more and more money, we have more and more needs," said Sandra H. French, board chairman, before the hearing. "What I wish I could hear is a sense of priority, a prioritizing from people."

French noted that County Executive James N. Robey has said the county government cannot support the $60 million increase in the total county budget, with an extra $49.6 million for schools.

The evening's speakers appeared indifferent to her concerns.

They spoke in support of increased spending on the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, mathematics intervention acceleration programs and software and graphing calculators for mathematics instruction.

Cassandra Swick, a student representative on the Science Advisory Committee, said that reducing the sizes of laboratory classes was important.

"I can personally attest to that," she said. "I was in a chemistry class with 31 students. It was very hectic."

She also lobbied for new science textbooks. Last year, textbooks were cut from the budget, and cutting them from the 2004 budget would mean the textbook cycle would stretch from eight to 10 years.

"With some subjects such as [Advanced Placement] physics, in eight years, the field could change a lot," she said.

Matt Babrowsky, an adult member of the Science Advisory Committee, said he reviewed four textbooks and discovered 13 pages of errors.

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