Teachers union to release Smith survey findings

Results could be used for no-confidence vote

He did well in recent poll

August 10, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County teachers union plans to announce tomorrow the results of a survey of its members evaluating Superintendent Eric J. Smith's performance.

Union leaders say they plan to use the results of the mail-in survey, launched during a contentious impasse over contract negotiations last spring, to determine whether to hold a vote of no confidence in Smith, who was hired in 2002.

The union went ahead with the survey although school system officials and teachers resolved disagreements over pay and compensation. Some teachers have expressed concern about a rising workload, among other issues.

The vote comes at a pivotal time for Smith, who is beginning his fourth year amid tensions with some school board members over communication and other issues. Smith was not available for comment. He received high marks in a recent 21st Century Foundation survey of teachers, administrators and others.

According to that survey, conducted for the school system, 74 percent of 4,663 school-based employees who responded in March rated Smith "excellent/very good" or "satisfactory," up from 62 percent last year. Those surveyed included teachers, principals, secretaries, custodians and others.

Among headquarters staff, 87 percent of 459 respondents deemed him satisfactory, very good or excellent, compared with 77 percent last year.

The idea of a no-confidence vote followed a year of public disputes, including the stalemate in contract talks between the school system and the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, which represents nearly 5,500 teachers, guidance counselors and others.

The superintendent played down the move at that time, saying that the two issues should not be confused.

Last August, the county school system proposed changing the administrator of the most popular employee health care plan. After protests at school board meetings, school administrators later extended the contract with CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

As negotiations for the current contract began, teachers brought visual aids to school board meetings to show how their workload has increased, with escalating amounts of paperwork piling up as more meetings were scheduled.

One teacher waved a white flag at school board members, announcing her plans to retire in February because of her frustration having to teach more students under difficult circumstances.

Then, in April, state education officials declared an impasse in contract talks between the school district and teachers union. Sticking points included workload issues and requirements that nonmembers - who are subject to the terms of the contract - contribute to the costs of negotiating and enforcing it.

Teachers union President Sheila M. Finlayson said she began researching potential survey instruments in the fall. However, union representatives from each school made a motion in April calling for the vote of no confidence - one of several items on a list of options during the impasse.

Teachers also "worked to rule" - doing no work other than what was dictated by the terms of their contract - and conducted informational picketing.

Both sides returned to the bargaining table in May to settle the impasse after County Executive Janet S. Owens released her budget recommendation.

The school system and teachers union agreed to a 4 percent cost-of-living increase, and officials promised to consider the union's membership demands in the future as well as develop a multi-year solution to salary disparities between Anne Arundel and neighboring counties.

Although the union abandoned some plans, including a job fair for current Anne Arundel teachers to find jobs elsewhere, the union mailed copies of the superintendent's evaluation forms to union members later in May.

"We knew that they felt strongly for specific reasons," Finlayson said. "We felt we needed to get at what the concerns were."

During May, school officials and teachers released the recommendations of a joint workload task force.

School officials also announced plans to conduct a salary study to address differences in teacher compensation among neighboring school systems.

After considering the results of the union's survey, building representatives may consider the vote of no confidence at their meeting next month, Finlayson said.

School board members and Smith said at the last school board meeting that some recommendations, such as hiring more staff to help with paperwork, would have contractual or budgetary implications and could not be implemented immediately.

"This isn't a done deal. This is a work in progress," Smith said during the meeting.

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