Group of Owings Mills teachers proposes furloughs to avoid cutting positions

About 200 teachers, mainly at high schools, to be moved

March 14, 2011|By Liz Bowie, The Baltimore Sun

A group of Owings Mills High teachers is proposing that Baltimore County school system employees take a three-day furlough in order to prevent cutting positions at schools.

Guy Pritzker, a math teacher, wrestling coach and 28-year veteran at Owings Mills, said he believes teachers would be willing to teach on furlough days so that students don't suffer. Pritzker sent a letter, with the signatures of 16 other Owings Mills teachers, to school board President Earnest A. Hines and Superintendent Joe A. Hairston.

Baltimore County's high school principals are telling dozens of teachers this week that their positions will be cut and that they must move to a different school, probably a middle school. Teachers have said that the result will be an increase in class sizes and cuts to electives and Advanced Placement classes.

"These schools cannot be run effectively without these teachers," Pritzker said, adding that he believes Owings Mills will lose 9.6 teaching positions. Although he said he doesn't believe he will be moved, he is concerned that special courses that students need are likely to be cut.

In high schools, he said, it isn't easy to simply make class sizes larger because many teachers lead a variety of courses. Therefore, cutting the teacher means cutting the course, he said.

"The solution is so simple. Just furlough. In these troubled days, you should be glad to have a job," Pritzker said. Losing three days of pay, he said, "wouldn't change his life," and he believes it would save about $6 million. He thinks most teachers would be willing to take the furloughs.

The proposed $1.3 billion school budget for the fiscal year beginning in July calls for the elimination of 196 teaching positions from elementary, middle and high schools through attrition. Most of the reductions are concentrated in high schools, where principals are cutting as much as 10 percent of their faculty across the county. The cuts to the teaching staff are expected to save about $12 million.

Under a two-year contract ratified by the teachers, administrators, firefighters and police officers, there are no furloughs or layoffs through the end of the next school year. But Pritzker thinks that contract could be changed, given that it was negotiated at a time when cuts to teacher positions were not under discussion.

But teachers union President Cheryl Bost said she doesn't believe it is a feasible option. "We are not looking to go back on that agreement. We believe that the budget cuts that would be necessary could still be dealt with without furloughs and without losing teaching positions," she said.

The school system has made no cuts to administration, and she believes that trimming some of those jobs, as well cutting other items, such as $500,000 for furniture at school headquarters at Greenwood, could accomplish the needed reductions.

Hines said it would be up to Hairston to look at whether furloughs are an option. Charles Herndon, a spokesman for Hairston, said the superintendent had not seen the letter but added that the teachers' concern is premature because principals go through the same process each year to adjust staffing ratios. While he acknowledged that cutting about 200 positions this year was different, he said, "Not everything has settled out."

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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