Teachers protest as contract talks continue

March 22, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Many teachers wore red T-shirts. The fronts were emblazoned with the question: "What do we want?"

The back of the T-shirts read: "Respect."

More than 800 teachers lined a portion of Riva Road in Annapolis outside the Anne Arundel County schools headquarters on Wednesday evening to protest concerns tied to continuing contract negotiations between the teachers union and the school system.

The teachers, led by Tim Mennuti, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said they were concerned about possible class-size increases, plans to eliminate lesson-planning time during the school day and staff cuts that would increase pressures on an already overburdened work force. The teachers' three-year contract expires this summer.

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and school board President Enrique Melendez declined to comment but released a joint statement.

"The Board of Education and TAAAC are continuing negotiations on a wide range of issues," the statement read. "Significant progress has been made on non-economic issues. We have agreed to delay substantive discussions on economic items pending more definitive information from county and state leaders. We look forward to working with TAAAC to collaboratively resolve these issues. We respect our teachers and value greatly the work they do on a daily basis. It is our hope that we will be able to agree on a compensation package that fairly rewards our teachers even in these difficult economic times."

Jan Smith, a librarian at Arnold Elementary School, said she was concerned about the possibility that school department officials would eliminate teachers' in-school lesson planning times.

"The superintendent thinks that we're not professionals," Smith said. "If you saw the teachers at my school - they work so hard. They work until 5 or 6 o'clock. They already do work at home. It's disrespectful."

Kathy Priet, head of the math department at Old Mill Middle School North in Millersville, and Marge McGugan, a family and consumer sciences teacher at the school, expressed concern about impending changes to the middle-school schedule. McGugan said the changes will have her go from teaching 250 students to about 360 students.

"There's got to be a balance between putting in new programs and supporting teachers," Priet said. "Now it's new programs, but it looks like [Maxwell's] slamming teachers."

After about an hour outside waving signs that read "Respect" and "Reward Education," the teachers filed into the Board of Education building. They filled the seats. Some sat on the floor. Others stood.

Minutes before the 7 p.m. meeting was set to begin, Deputy Superintendent Arlen Liverman pleaded with the teachers who could not find seats to leave the meeting room, which has a capacity of just more than 300.

"Everything is being taped," Liverman said. "You're going to be seen. You're going to be heard. I'm simply asking you, those that are standing, please move to the cafeteria."

The crowd defiantly shouted their responses.

"Bring the meeting to the cafeteria!" someone said.

Another said, "Bring the board in, and then we'll move!"

At some point, school department officials called the county fire department to enforce the room capacity.

Only when Mennuti used a microphone and urged the overflow crowd to go to the building's cafeteria, where school officials had set up a video feed, did the excess crowd retreat. The firefighters arrived after the standing teachers had departed.

"As with most people, they work best when they feel appreciated," Mennuti said of the teachers, citing various accomplishments. "We expect the respect that our hard work has earned."

Bob Mosier, a school department spokesman, said, "They are obviously passionate about that they do. And we're obviously passionate about what they do. Our school system is obviously as good as it is in large part because of what they do and all our employees."

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