Baltimore County school officials told middle and high school principals last week that they must limit the number of leadership positions next year to save $814,000, a move teachers say means schools have again been targeted for cuts.

The decision will strip the title and pay from some teachers who act as department chairs and perform certain roles, including helping principals evaluate teachers, making sure books and supplies are evenly distributed, and deciding how curriculum will be taught.

The announcement came during national Teacher Appreciation Week, which Teachers Association of Baltimore County President Abby Beytin said was a particularly unfortunate time to tell some teachers they will lose their $2,800 to $5,000 annual stipends for doing the extra work.

The school system said the reductions have been planned for more than a year and were detailed in the adopted budget for this school year and next. The intent was to stop "excessive use of this extra pay allotment" while preserving the most important leadership positions, Phyllis Reese, a spokeswoman for the school system, said in an email.

Reese supplied a list of positions that will be kept, including department chairs for English, math, science, social studies, guidance, world languages, physical education, special education, fine arts, and several team leaders for specific grades. The list also includes a position for a nurse if he or she supervises an assistant.

Beytin said the concern is not just that the teachers will lose the pay, but that "they will still be doing the same jobs. Just because someone takes a position out doesn't mean that the job doesn't have to be done." Beytin believes many teachers will do the job without the stipend.

She said the notification was done at the last minute and once again the system is "balancing budgets on the people in the schoolhouse."

A reduction in 196 teaching positions in high schools this year has increased average class sizes and forced principals to drop 700 classes. Some high schools have 30 or more students in as many as one-third of their classes.

The school system plans to save $3.1 million in next year's budget by eliminating through attrition 46 administrative, central office and nonclassroom positions.

A document obtained by The Baltimore Sun that was sent May 17 to middle schools gives principals flexibility to decide which leadership positions they wish to maintain, though they must not exceed 14. The principals must return the form by June 1. Reese didn't respond to a question about the document.

Beytin said department chairs, who can be in charge of as many as 15 employees, are integral to schools. For instance, she said, if a principal with a background in English is evaluating a math teacher, he or she will often depend on the math department chair to evaluate the lesson's content. "They don't write the evaluations, but they provide input," Beytin said.

The departments most likely to suffer are music and art, which could be combined under one chair. But Beytin said, "A music teacher has a very different skill set than an art teacher."

Some of the leadership jobs provide work over the summer, Beytin said, and cutting the stipends so late in the year is a hardship because it means teachers may have to quickly find a part-time job to make up for the loss in pay.

Compensation for teachers who coach teams or lead after-school activities will continue, according to Reese.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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