Teachers at Bel Air High School staged a job action Tuesday, part of an expanding protest among Harford County's 3,200 public school teachers over no raises and other contract issues.
A group of them also marched outside the Harford County Council's building in Bel Air Tueday, with many of the teachers then filing into the chamber where the council was expected to take its final vote on 2013 county budget, one that contains only a small increase in local funding for the school system.
The teachers' protest began Friday afternoon outside Ring Factory Elementary in Bel Air, where upward of 100 teachers marched and waved signs along Route 924 after classes had let our for the weekend. It spread to Bel Air High early Tuesday morning and then on to the council meeting, as several teachers said they planned to keep up pressure on county and school officials to address inequities in salaries and other economic issues.
Anthony Blackburn, an English teacher at Bel Air High, notified local media via e-mail Monday evening that "many" teachers at his school planned to begin a "working to rule" policy beginning Tuesday morning.
"What this basically means is that these teachers will begin to follow their contracts to the letter of the law," Blackburn, who used his Harford County Public Schools e-mail account, wrote. "These BAHS teachers are choosing to comply to the exact language of their contracts in response to several instances over the past several years of HCPS violating this same contract and not negotiating with the HCEA in 'good faith.'"
"These teachers will be entering school at 6:50 a.m. to begin the duty day, and leaving the building at 2:20 p.m., as a group," added Blackburn, whose e-mail also said he is the school's online newspaper adviser.
Sure enough, just after 2:20 p.m. a group of about 40 teachers walked out of the school together. According to http://www.hcps.org, Bel Air High has 101 classroom teachers.
Among those walking out were Mike Von Volen and Jason Taylor.
Von Volen, a fourth-year teacher, said the walk-out was a result of a culmination of things — the second half of the county bonus plan being revoked, an extra work day in dispute between the teachers union and school officials and the lack of raises for a fourth year.
The extra calendar day for teachers, Von Volen said, is "the straw that broke the camel's back." He also noted that he still makes the equivalent of a first-year teacher's salary.
Taylor, who has taught at Bel Air High for 10 years, said he fears the lack of compensation in recent years will "drive talented [teachers] away from the profession" or to other counties.
"Students and student activities will [likely] suffer," Von Volen said, as a result of teachers arriving and leaving when their contracts dictate. "But you have to make a stand at some point."
Taylor added that he and the other teachers "do everything we can for the kids," but the "people who pay our wages" don't understand that.
"It stinks," Taylor said. "I love my job and I love my students."
Supervising clubs and other extracurricular activities, which Von Volen said make the teacher "more connected to the community," will stop as well since the majority of them occur after school hours.
When asked how long the "working to rule" policy will be followed, Von Volen said: "As long as it takes until we're recognized."
The teachers intend to adhere to the policy for the rest of this school year and possibly into the next, he said.
Ring Factory march
At the peak of the first protest, shortly after 4 p.m. Friday, about 100 teachers, some holding signs reading "Fund public education" and "Save our schools," gathered along sidewalks just off school property at Ring Factory Elementary, just south of Bel Air.
The majority of cars that drove past the picketers honked in support of the teachers.