Pugh calls mass teacher absences in Baltimore 'unconscionable'

Mayor Pugh on Thursday called the alleged "sick-out" by teachers last month "unconscionable."

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh on Thursday lambasted the city elementary school teachers who called in sick en masse last month to protest looming school budget cuts and layoffs.

"The negative impact we've had on our children is unconscionable," Pugh said. "To stay home because you want to protest, not knowing if you're going to have a job — and you have one today — is unconscionable."

The criticism, leveled at teachers at Tench Tilghman Elementary on the city's east side who effectively shut down the school for the day on Feb. 22, came during a wide-ranging keynote speech at a United Way of Central Maryland fundraising breakfast in a ballroom at the downtown Hyatt Regency Baltimore hotel.

The sick-out was widely condemned by parents, the school district and Baltimore Teachers Union.

In a statement released at the time, schools CEO Sonja Santelises said that she was "extremely disappointed that staff members may have chosen to express their anxiety about school budgets by disrupting teaching and learning for our students and compromising students' access to the services and supports we provide in a safe, positive school environment."

The Baltimore Teachers Union, meanwhile, warned that it is illegal for teachers to strike and said that the action "put teachers and our students at risk."

Pugh also on Thursday touted her efforts to seek state aid from Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly to close the school system's $130 million budget deficit and said she has placed 17 trauma counselors inside city schools to work with students who have been exposed to violence.

Pugh said she'd like to establish boards of directors for each city school, similar to the ones charters have, "who really care about that school," to make the schools more accountable and better run.

But as mayor, she stipulated, she has limited control over the school system, although she has appealed to Annapolis to allow the city to retake control of the city Board of School Commissioners.

"I want to make clear, I'm not the CEO of the city school system," Pugh said. "We pay her quite well to do her job."

On another topic, the mayor said she wants to create seven mobile units to help employers hire 10 people per day in struggling neighborhoods and eliminate unemployment in the city.

"Inside our communities there are people who are waiting for help, who want to be part of the solution," Pugh said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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