Arundel teachers group faults Smith in survey

Union head calls superintendent `not willing to listen' to instructors


News from around the Baltimore region

August 12, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith, coming off of a harsh internal audit and criticism by school board members of his communication skills, received an additional blow yesterday.

The county teachers union released a sharp critique of Smith's performance that showed most respondents feel he doesn't consistently consider their input on teaching methods, involve staff in key decisions, or foster trust between administrators and instructors.

"The superintendent's not willing to listen to employees and consider employees as having valuable information he can use," said Sheila M. Finlayson, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

The results of the mail-in surveys, which were returned by about a quarter of the 4,100 members, could set the stage for a no-confidence vote on Smith this fall, union leaders said. The survey's release came as school board members held a closed-door meeting last night to discuss the previously conducted audit and Smith's annual performance review.

The superintendent said he received the teacher survey report yesterday and "will review it with a great deal of interest."

"I welcome any kind of feedback in terms of issues raised by teachers," he said.

Smith, now entering the fourth year of his contract, was hired to raise test scores in an underperforming suburban county. Successes in creating uniform curricula and class schedules and rising test scores have been tempered, however, by public rancor with the teachers union over health care and workload issues.

Several school board members said last week that Smith doesn't share enough information with them. This followed an internal audit that criticized hiring and promotion practices for top administrators.

"My issue has been the lack of communication with the board, so I can see the teachers' points," said board member Edward P. Carey of Brooklyn Park. "I think that's one area that needs to be worked on, the communication."

Union representatives from each school sought a vote of no confidence at a meeting in April during a contentious impasse in contract talks. But the union leadership convinced them that a survey would show that such a vote would not be taken arbitrarily, said executive director Bill Jones.

Although agreement was reached in May on a contract that provided a 4 percent cost-of-living increase to the county's 5,500 teachers, guidance counselors and other school-based employees, the union went ahead and mailed out surveys to its dues-paying members later that month.

More than 90 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement that the superintendent had established firm trust between administrators and educators.

"There is not a feeling of trust in our school system," Finlayson said.

Three-quarters of teachers also agreed that workload has increased significantly over the past three years. Finlayson raised concerns yesterday that the recommendations of a workload task force were still being studied rather than implemented.

Although more than half agreed that Smith is committed to increasing achievement of all students, only about a quarter of respondents felt he was addressing the needs of English language learners or those in special education.

Finlayson also announced an Aug. 26 event to celebrate teachers' contributions. School board members and Smith announced at the last school board meeting that they would contribute a total of $1,000 toward the event.

Smith praised the efforts of teachers yesterday. He said the key now was maintaining focus on the impending start of school Aug. 29.

"I have seen a great deal of success with children. I expect to see this year being a continuation of that," Smith said.

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