Teachers at Severna Park High School began a work-to-rule job action yesterday to protest Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens' plan to eliminate $14.8 million worth of teacher raises from next year's budget.
Under the job action, most of the school's 97 teachers are refusing to do work not required of them under the terms of their contract, such as staying after school to tutor students or grading papers at home, organizers said.
Teachers picketed outside the school on Robinson Road before the beginning of the school day and after walking out together at 2:45 p.m. - the official end of their workday - in a show of solidarity.
"It can only get worse if we don't do anything now," said Mike Kandra, a social studies teacher who said he cannot afford to lose the roughly $3,500 raise he expected. Kandra, who has three young children, said he works two other jobs - as a night school teacher and a private tutor - to make ends meet on his $51,000 salary.
Less than two weeks ago, Owens recommended cutting scheduled cost-of-living and longevity increases for the county's 11,000 employees, including about 5,200 teachers. The teachers' raises were written into their contracts with the Board of Education, but are subject to county approval.
Hundreds of teachers turned out for a public budget hearing Monday before the County Council, which must approve the county's budget by the end of the month. Teachers union officials were expecting a larger turnout at a second hearing at 7 p.m. today at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.
Many teachers have criticized Owens' decision to withhold raises but fund nearly $14 million worth of academic initiatives planned by Superintendent Eric J. Smith, including buying uniform math and reading textbooks for pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade and increasing advanced course offerings in high schools.
Smith, however, said his staff has squeezed every department and made reductions in areas such as maintenance, technology and staffing to make the initiatives possible.
Owens' budget proposal included all of the savings Smith sought: nearly $12 million in cuts and "redirected funds" - money taken from one program to fund another - and the reassignment of scores of school personnel to classroom jobs.
"We purposely decided to fund the new initiatives by reducing expenditures out of this year's budget and redirecting funds to cover the cost," Smith said. "We have an obligation to many [people] in this process, and we've tried to meet that."
Smith said the job action by Severna Park teachers would have an impact. "Teachers do a lot of work during the school day and on their own, after hours," he said. "Anytime they don't, it's felt by the school system."
The superintendent also said he has heard that a protest flier is being distributed at Arundel High School in Gambrills that urges teachers to disrupt next week's administration of the state's High School Assessment. Smith said school staff will be expected to express their views on the budget without jeopardizing the educational process.
In a written statement yesterday, the county executive said her hand has been forced by a lack of state funding.
"Officials from the state have indicated that they plan to cut aid to local jurisdictions even further. ... I am making every effort to avoid the possibility of lay-offs within county government," the statement said. "The sacrifice that I ask of public employees does not mean that they are not valued employees."
Owens' statement also noted that the county has picked up the slack to maintain teacher salaries at their current levels, although state officials cut $4.6 million in funds the state previously had pledged toward the salaries.
Teachers at Severna Park High said they have contacted colleagues at other schools in hopes of starting a larger movement.
William Myers, Severna Park's principal, said he did not see any disruption of the school day yesterday. "These are a tried-and-true bunch of professional people," Myers said. "They're doing their job."
As she waited to walk out of Severna Park's front doors with her co-workers, English teacher Laura Gerken shouldered a black tote bag filled with students' quizzes. Although the job action called for teachers not to take work home, Gerken said she was uncertain about whether she would leave the papers ungraded.
"I'm going to try to stick to the work-to-rule," Gerken said. "It's a last resort. The last people we want to suffer are the students. They're the reason we're in this profession."