Teachers to seek reduced workload

School board to begin contract negotiations with unions this week

Carroll County

December 12, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Workloads for teachers will be one of the major issues when contract talks between the Carroll County school board and negotiators from five unions representing more than 3,100 district employees begin this week.

"Our people cannot continue to work at this pace," said Hal Fox, who represents the Carroll County Education Association and Carroll Association of School Employees. "No matter how hard a teacher works, you can't do 12 things simultaneously."

The one-year contracts for all five unions expire June 30.

Board negotiators are scheduled to meet tomorrow with the bargaining team for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents about 250 school custodians, maintenance workers, bus drivers and bus assistants in Carroll.

Negotiators will meet Tuesday with representatives from the school system's largest union, the 2,057-member CCEA, which represents teachers, media specialists, guidance counselors and registered nurses.

Also on Tuesday, board negotiators will meet with the Carroll County Food Services Association, which represents about 175 cafeteria managers and workers.

The opening bargaining session with negotiators for CASE, which represents about 520 secretaries, instructional assistants and licensed practical nurses, is scheduled for Wednesday.

The union representing Carroll's 110 principals, psychologists and department supervisors has not scheduled an opening session.

Teachers, complaining that paperwork demands have become intolerable, have packed school board meetings during the past two months to drive home their point.

At last week's school board meeting, several teachers spoke in detail about school days packed with meetings, paperwork deadlines and conferences with parents and other teachers. Working 10-hour days, plus taking work home to do at night and on weekends, has begun to take a physical and mental toll, they said.

"Year after year, it's harder and harder," said Jessica Bair, who has taught eighth-grade earth science at West Middle in Westminster for five years. "I'm already burned out. I love my job, but I don't know if I will be able to stay in this career another 25 years."

Teachers and union representatives said the issue is especially pressing for special-education teachers, who by law must submit detailed individual education plans for each child.

Sherry Laczkowski, who has been a special-education teacher for more than 22 years at Robert Moton Elementary in Westminster, complained of work-related stress and anxiety that forced her to take time off from work last year.

"I got into this for the kids," she said. "But more of my time is being spent on paperwork."

Maureen Chesser, a special-education resource teacher at Runnymede Elementary in Westminster, implored board members to find a way to reduce the workload "so we can go home and spend time with our families."

School officials assured teachers that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears. They pointed to a committee of teachers that is weighing the issue with the hopes of developing a solution.

"There certainly has been an increase in workload," said Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration and one of the school system's negotiators. "The problem is: What is the solution?"

Some teachers have recommended adding clerical staff to help with paperwork.

But Guthrie said the school system's budget doesn't have much "discretionary money" to allow for new staffing.

He said about 87 percent of the system's $225 million operating budget covers salaries and benefits, while about 10 percent covers such items as utility bills and construction costs.

That leaves about 3 percent for instruction materials, such as textbooks, he said, "and you don't want to reduce that."

He said the goal would be to increase salary and benefits before increasing the staff.

"It would take tens of millions to match statewide average staffing levels," he said "We just don't have that kind of discretionary money available."

A common complaint is that, as new duties are introduced, others are not eliminated or reduced. Guthrie said that, while it seems an easy solution to simply take away duties as new ones are added, the problem is agreeing about which duties to erase.

"We don't have consensus on what should be abandoned," he said. "We've been struggling with this for years."

Guthrie said the school system has little flexibility because many of the new duties are the result of state and federal legislation, namely the state's Bridge to Excellence Act and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and their accountability regulations.

"The increase in workload is driven in most part by obligations and laws that are beyond school system control," Guthrie said.

"But that doesn't mean we won't consider any proposal that comes to the table," he said. "We can't do everything, but we'll certainly do what we can do in balancing the needs of what our employees are saying along with our overriding mission and the regulatory guidance [of federal and state agencies] and our community."

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