Rehiring law's demise likely to end careers

Educators ponder options with program set to expire

April 15, 2004|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Eight years shepherding Grange Elementary in Dundalk wasn't long enough for Harry Belsinger, and yet one of the Baltimore County school system's most accomplished principals will probably have to leave anyway.

The General Assembly's failure to renew a program letting retired educators like the 62-year-old Belsinger keep their jobs means the last day of classes this spring will likely mark the end of prized, longtime careers.

"I feel like I still have - had, I have to use the past tense now - I had something to contribute to the county and to our boys and girls, so I had planned on that, but it doesn't seem possible," he said yesterday.

School systems had been accused of misusing the 4-year-old program, but even critics expected legislators would renew it - with safeguards making sure those rehired worked in key subjects and in needy schools, as intended.

Now, many of the 1,000 educators re-employed under the program face leaving their jobs June 30 - even if their work hewed to the program's purpose.

Marvin Miller is in his fourth year working as a rehired biology teacher at Rosedale Center High, and he wanted to keep working there. Now, he worries where he might work next year.

Under Maryland retirement rules, Miller could teach in another county school system for regular pay and not lose any of his pension, but Miller isn't sure he wants to learn a new district's curriculum and procedures at this stage of his career.

He expressed frustration with the legislature's inability to resolve differences about the rehiring program.

"I came, I did the job [consistent with] the intent of the legislation and worked hard at it," he said. "And then suddenly, you're gone, you're finished, move on. It's kind of a demeaning feeling."

`Nothing I can do'

Belsinger, who is credited with spurring Grange Elementary's working-class pupils to strong test scores, expressed dismay that his life's work will probably end this way.

"It happened, and there is nothing I can do," said Belsinger, a 41-year veteran. "I've got to look back and say I've had 41 good years, 41 years I'm proud of, and those are the kinds of memories I will take away from this job."

The rehired educators can't keep their jobs - unless they work part time or agree to sacrifice some of their pensions - because lawmakers couldn't agree on how to address misuses in the program reported by The Sun.

Since principals play a central role in improving school performance, school officials said it will be especially important to find suitable replacements for the departing principals of struggling schools, but that will be difficult.

"Sometimes bringing in new blood is fine, but sometimes it takes a few years to get your footing," said Deputy State Superintendent Ronald A. Peiffer.

Hiring outlook

Peiffer and other school officials said replacing the rehired teachers may not be as hard because the Baltimore City schools' budget woes may prompt veteran teachers to look for work in other school systems.

Still officials expect the end of the rehiring program will make it more difficult for districts to find qualified candidates, especially in math and other critical subjects that every year are hard to fill.

"There are not enough candidates out there," said Lin Blackman, director of human resources for Anne Arundel County schools.

In Baltimore County, where 159 have been re-employed, the second-largest number in the state, news that treasured teachers and principals might leave sparked concern at schools such as Kenwood High in Essex.

Diane Goldian, a retired principal who was rehired at Kenwood High, is widely praised for restoring discipline and raising achievement. The school could lose her and some department chairs who were also rehired.

"It's greatly upsetting," said Althea Page, PTA president at Kenwood. "It's going to have an impact on the school."

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