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Hickory teachers protest after school Thursday, more planned Friday

Job actions expected to continue next week

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

7:55 PM EDT, May 31, 2012

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Teachers at Hickory Elementary School near Bel Air became the latest group Thursday to protest what several teachers describe as a lack of respect from the board of education and Harford County government.

Verna Hiser, who has taught at the elementary school for nine years, said she decided to attend the rally outside school Thursday afternoon because "as a staff, we want to show we're sticking together."

As the teachers' school day ended at 3:50 p.m., a group of about 30 marched out and moved onto non-school property near busy Route 1 (Conowingo Road), many holding up signs that declared "fully fund education" and "support those who support your kids."

"We're tired of bouncing back and forth between the board of education and county," Hiser said, adding that teachers feel like "pawns" in an ongoing battle between the two entities.

Hiser explained why the "working to rule" policy, that has been part of the protest, will be such a big change for teachers, who, at many schools around the county, are beginning to come in at the start of the school day and leave when it technically ends.

The previous evening she was at school working until 8 p.m., Hiser said.

"You can't run effective programs if you're not here extra hours," she said of the consequences.

During June, Hiser continued, she will have a total of three weekdays off, even though the last technical day for teachers is June 14, because of committee meetings.

Martin Pastor, a third year music teacher, held up a sign along Conowingo Road that said "Honk! If you support education!" encouraging drivers to blare their horns in recognition.

Pastor pointed out that he is still earning a beginning teacher's salary.

"We're not complaining about not getting money," he said. "You don't become a teacher because of the paycheck. You become a teacher to protect the future."

Pastor feels, however, that the teachers aren't being protected by those responsible for funding the schools.

Harford County Education Association President Randy Cerveny, head of the teachers' union, was also at the Hickory protest, just as he was at last Friday's in front of Ring Factory Elementary School, and mentioned that about 75 people at Fallston High School were planning to leave at 2:20 p.m. Friday, similar to what Bel Air High School teachers did earlier in the week.

Next week, he continued, there will be even more job actions.

"A lot of schools are getting involved in this," Cerveny said on the phone earlier Thursday. Although he couldn't name the specific schools, he mentioned that teachers at least 25 Harford County Public Schools facilities will participate in similar protests June 6 and 7.

Under the "working to rule" policy, teachers follow their contracts exactly and begin and end their days when the school day begins and ends.

On Tuesday, a large number of Bel Air High teachers walked out of the school en masse at 2:20 p.m. as a form of protest.

Teachers at Joppatowne High School, Ring Factory Elementary and Bakersfield Elementary have all adopted the policy, Cerveny said.

Special school board meeting

Later that night, 40 to 50 teachers attended the special Harford County Board of Education meeting at the A. A. Roberty building in Bel Air, with a handful speaking against the board and asking for respect.

The first to speak was Pastor from Hickory Elementary.

He started off by saying he is "proud to be a Harford County employee," but "none of us would be in the position we are without the teachers" who have influenced us and deserve respect.

Susan Kotschenreuther, a third-grade teacher at Hickory, said she has met with Superintendent Robert Tomback during various meetings and he has said that the teachers need to "promote themselves."

The teacher said she is "too busy" teaching, planning and grading to make her presence known frequently, but "can no longer afford to not promote myself."

She continued that teachers are "outraged" at not being compensated fairly and have made personal sacrifices over the years for the benefit of the children they teach.

Kotschenreuther challenged the board to spend a day with a teacher to see what they do and make funding a priority.

She also read a letter written by a colleague who wished not to speak that evening.

The letter stated that instead of being viewed as "pawns" teachers should bee seen as "trophies."

"Trophies demand respect and honor," Kotschenreuther read, "and so do we."

Gregory Plotycia was succinct in his message to board members.

The Aberdeen High School teacher who has been an educator since 1978 said the board was responsible for "degrading this school system" and they should be "ashamed."

George Curry, a teacher at North Harford Middle School, said he is not only an school system employee, he also has kids in the school system.

Curry said the schools couldn't afford to "expect any more sacrifices from the instructional staff," as they've given all they can. "[The teachers] are stretched to their limits."

Behind the many accolades the school system receives year to year, he continued, is the instructional staff.

He said an eighth-grade student who recently came to his classroom to help out asked if he would be in the same room next year, but hesitated with his answer.

"I don't know where I'm going to be," Curry said.

Cerveny also addressed the board.

He said he doesn't feel they have "put up much of a fight" for public education funding and they should "do what it takes to make that happen."

Mike Moore, a science teacher at Fallston Middle, is also the husband of a special education teacher at C. Milton Wright High School who was unable to attend that night's meeting because she was at her second job tutoring at Huntington Learning Center.

He noted that he and his wife both work three jobs each every year, including during the summer, and because of time devoted to their jobs and a lack of income over the years have been unable to start a family as soon as they had hoped "because we simply cannot afford it."

"We never expected to be rich," Moore said, but counted on the step increases included in his and his wife's contracts.

As a result of working additional jobs, he added that they've had to cut back time spent with students after school and attending school functions.

"Please find a way to fund our step increases," Moore told the board.

Board reaction

Many board of education members responded to the comments made, including a visibly emotional Alysson Krchnavy.

"This job is not something that's easy and [one] I take very seriously," she said. Krchnavy asked those in attendance not to question "whether I'm an advocate" for teachers in the county.

"I hear what you guys say and thank you for sharing your thoughts," she said.

Board member Cassandra Beverley said she doesn't believe "I'd be here without the teachers in my life" and hopes the teachers don't feel that the board doesn't understand how hard they work.

She said she is completely aware of the teachers' "level of conviction and willingness to do the hard work."

Member Nancy Reynolds also told the crowd that the board is listening to their comments.

"Your words are very powerful," she noted.

Member Bob Frisch said, "As an educator, I understand what you go through every day" and said he appreciates them.

Member Joseph Hau and vice president Rick Grambo also said they appreciate the teachers speaking up.

Budget adjustments

Jim Jewell, assistant superintendent of business services, also gave a presentation on the board of education's proposed fiscal year 2013 operating budget in response to what the Harford County Council approved Tuesday.

Jewell noted that during the recent special legislative session, a bill was approved to pass a portion of teacher pension costs to the county — roughly $5.5 million for Harford this upcoming fiscal year — and adjustments would need to be made in regard to revenue requested.

The board's original request for about $23.9 million from the county will need to be adjusted to about $18 million.

In total revenue, the board will need to make an adjustment of about $3.82 million in its budget.

Krchnavy asked if there was any possibility of any more revenue coming in.

"I don't envision we'll get any increase in money from the county or state," Jewell said, as both budgets have been approved for fiscal year 2013.

No action was taken Thursday. What they are is still being determined, according to Teri Kranefeld, spokesperson for the school system.