But when Payne heard that teachers were expected to "do their part" to ease the financial crisis, she was incensed. She had already done her part, she wrote in a letter to The Sun last month. She had dipped into her own funds to buy school supplies and shoes and clothing for her students. "As far as I'm concerned, I've already taken a pay cut," she wrote.
Some pupils agree. "If she gets a pay cut, it's like us getting a pay cut," says Christopher Bowers, 14, "because she helps us out a lot." Bowers' classmate, Steven Fort, 12, notes that his teacher "doesn't get the help she used to get."
Anger and guilt
One evening last week, Payne sat for two hours in her small Catonsville dining room with Ondis, Weller and reporters for The Sun and the city's cable Channel 5 to talk about the effect of the crisis.
Her initial anger has turned to guilt, said Payne, 37, a mother of three and 10-year veteran of Baltimore schools.
She feels guilty that she has it better than some of her colleagues, that she has to rely so heavily on her aide, Ellen Hatfield, who is assigned to a single special education student and is not obligated to substitute or teach a lesson now and again.
She feels badly that her family is bearing the brunt of her frustration. "They don't deserve it. They had nothing to do with it," she says.
And Payne says she feels guilty that she encouraged the younger Weller, once her student teacher, "to get into this profession."
Payne grew up in Morrell Park and dreamed early of returning to teach at the school of her childhood. "I got my dream, and now I'm teaching the children of the kids I went to school with. I used to say that I'd stay here until I died or they kicked me out.
"I'm not so sure anymore."