Teacher union seeks retirement incentives

Cost-saving proposal would allow pay raises, erase deficit, it says

March 30, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

As the city school system grapples with an unprecedented financial crisis, the Baltimore Teachers Union says it wants more money for its members and is recommending that city school officials shrink the system's staff - without more layoffs - by offering older teachers an incentive package to retire at the end of this school year.

In a savings and academic plan released yesterday, Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English said giving eligible teachers a financial incentive to leave could save the system about $16 million next school year. More than 900 teachers are eligible for retirement, and 715 would need to retire to meet that financial goal, union officials said.

That and other potential savings outlined in the union's proposal, called the Children Count Initiative, would eliminate the school system's $58 million deficit, English said. If the deficit was erased, the school system would be free to use new state funding for union-proposed academic initiatives and give the system's 8,000 teachers a raise.

"Our plan shows that there is money to do this," English said.

Union leaders, who delivered their plan to the school board and Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday, want their ideas to be included in the fiscal accountability plan being developed by top city and school officials. The city bailed out the struggling system with a $42 million loan that comes with a requirement for greater financial accountability.

"We hope to be invited to the table to talk about our plan and [O'Malley's] plan," English said. "So that whatever's in the [final] plan, we all agree on and there are no surprises."

Union officials said school officials could use part of the money from a 2002 state education financing bill known as Thornton. Baltimore is to receive more than $60 million next school year if the funding is approved.

Patricia L. Welch, chairwoman of the school board, said yesterday that although she welcomes "the input and good thinking of the union," she doubts that the law governing Thornton school funding would allow the system to use the new money for salaries.

"I don't think that the legislators had that in mind when they came up with Thornton," Welch said. "But it was to provide additional services for students."

In their proposal, union leaders recommend a number of academic services and programs, including the addition of a highly qualified master teacher at each elementary school and the expansion of a successful initiative called the CEO's District, which lengthens the school day and school year at a group of low-performing schools and provides continuous teacher training.

Loretta Johnson, vice president of the American Federation of Teachers and a leader in the Baltimore Teachers Union, said the system won't be able to provide those services to students without qualified teachers.

Many teachers have been demoralized by this year's financial crisis, and several have left the system or said they plan to leave, Johnson said. That, she said, provides all the more reason to give teachers a raise.

"If we want to hold on to qualified teachers and not lose them to other counties," Johnson said, "we have to stay competitive."

Among its cost-saving suggestions, the union is recommending that the school system take measures to prevent the kind of excessive hiring that occurred this school year and resulted in a budget overrun of about $14 million. The system mistakenly projected that enrollment would increase and hired more than 300 teachers who weren't needed.

"Hiring only the necessary staff would save [the school system] approximately $3 million," the union plan says.

In addition, the union is counting millions of dollars in savings from concessions teachers made during the last round of contract negotiations and money the system will save next year after it eliminates close to 800 jobs this year. Those savings will erase the deficit by next year, the union contends.

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