Baltimore County students rally for their teachers

About 60 protest planned cuts to teaching positions in front of Towson courthouse

March 28, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County high school students rallied Monday to keep their teachers in their schools, taking their protests to Towson's streets and county officials' offices.

About 60 students from across the county gathered at the Old Courthouse in Towson to protest a proposal to eliminate nearly 200 teaching positions, many of them at the high school level.

"The board of education is employed because of county residents like us," said Saskia Matthews, a Towson High School junior who helped organize the rally. "We want them to know what we think. We should be able to say how we feel, and we should be heard."

A group called the Baltimore Education Coalition staged a similar rally at noon Monday at City Hall. Participants, including the mayor and City Council president, called on legislators to fully fund education and pass the alcohol retail tax, which could add $12 million annually in funding for city schools.

Baltimore County now has about 8,500 teachers. Although the planned reduction of 196 teachers by July 1 may mean transfers for some, the cuts will come mostly through attrition. Officials say there will be no layoffs or furloughs, and eligible teachers will continue to receive step pay increases.

The school board passed a $1.3 billion budget for 2012, which is now before County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

"Now it's in his hands," Matthews said. "If no one reacts to these cuts, they will just keep doing them."

The student demonstrators decried the nearly $500,000 in the budget for new furnishings at the board's administrative offices in Towson. Alex Negron, a freshman at Towson High, used math symbols for his sign that said, "Teachers > [are greater than] furniture."

The county students, who obtained a permit for the rally and set up a Facebook page to urge schoolmates to participate, waved signs at vehicles and cheered loudly for those who honked.

"As students, we want to make something happen," said Towson High junior Averie Thomas.

The proposed reduction would fall hardest on the high schools, where class sizes would rise from an average of 26 this year to 29 next year, according to budget documents. Principals adhere to formula-based enrollment figures as they determine staffing needs. Dulaney High School could lose four English teachers. Lansdowne High might cut 18 teachers, and Towson High will would likely lose two Advanced Placement teachers, according to information provided by the teachers union.

While AP courses remain a priority in the system, those classes do not often attract 29 students, which means some of those teachers might be moved. Matthews, who is considering a career in medicine, had planned to take AP biology and photography next year, which seems unlikely now.

"I have been looking forward to AP bio since I was in eighth grade," she said.

Matthews' mother, Jesse Kaplin, joined the protest.

"I believe in public school education," Kaplin said. "Saskia knows she probably won't get these teachers rehired, but she is standing up for what is right."

Matthew Munk, 15, held the tallest sign, made up of four parts and topped with a quote from Gandhi, "because he led a peaceful revolution," he said.

"We are standing with our teachers for ourselves and for posterity," said Munk, a freshman at Eastern Tech. "We know Dr. [Joe] Hairston is interested in what we have to say. We came here today to speak to the politicians, who decide on the budget."

A cardboard box covered most of Owen Kearney's head and face.

"I can't see much out of the box," said Kearney, a freshman at Carver School for the Arts, where his father is a history teacher. "This is life without teachers."

The demonstrators marched around the courthouse several times, chanting slogans like, "We are the future. Give us the best."

"We stressed the positive," said Matthews. "Just being there says something."

Carol Ann Frantz, mother of demonstrator Sheldon Frantz, called the rally impressive.

"They came prepared," she said. "They had their thoughts together and knew what they wanted to say."

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