Harford teachers 'work to rule' to call attention to funding dispute

When school begins Aug. 26, Harford County teachers will be planning lessons and imparting them to students, but they will not be doing anything beyond their contractually obligated teaching duties as they conduct a "work to rule" action, the leader of their union said Thursday.

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the local teachers union, said the planned action passed by an 85 percent majority vote when union members met in June, during the days leading up to a vote by the county board of education to cut jobs, institute student activity and sports fees, consolidate bus routes and cancel a spending package of more than $7 million for employee salary increases.

The work to rule action has been in effect during the summer, Burbey said.

Burbey said teachers who work to rule will only follow the duties spelled out in their contract and will not volunteer for any activity outside the classroom, such as chaperoning field trips.

"Teachers are going to come to work; they're going to give the same quality education that they've been giving; they will be planning quality lessons; they'll be giving quality instruction," he said. "Within the classroom, there will really be no impact."

Burbey said the impact will be felt "outside the duty day," as teachers decline to participate in activities outside the classroom.

"There certainly will be a gap," he said of support for extracurricular activities. "Teachers go so far above and beyond their day to take care of kids."

The HCEA has about 2,000 members, out of 5,300 Harford County Public Schools employees, about 3,200 of whom are classroom teachers. The school system has almost 38,000 students.

"What's brought us to this is, teachers cannot continue to allow the funding to go the way its going," Burbey said.

Funding dispute

The school board members voted 6-3 on June 10 on the various cost reduction measures, which have raised the ire of parents, students and teachers. Board members have stated the moves were necessary to reconcile Harford County Public Schools' budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The board had to close a gap of about $20 million between the amount of money it had requested and what its local, state and federal funding sources were able to provide. The additional funds were requested to cover increased pension costs, contractually-obligated salary increases and overall increased costs of "doing business."

All of the $20 million was supposed to come from the county, an increase the county council and county executive have said is unrealistic in light of declining school enrollment and bad economic conditions in the county, where many people are employed by the federal government and the home building industry.

The alternative, they said, would have been to raise taxes or cut services elsewhere.

County Executive David Craig noted earlier this week that his administration has never cut the county's annual funding for the school system and increased funding by $1.5 million the latest budget. Craig has also pointed out the county's funding for the school system has increased 26 percent since 2006, while total school enrollment declined by 2,500 students during the same period.

But Craig has also called upon the school board to rescind the planned activity fees and bus service cuts, offering to work with the school officials to find an alternative solution.

Members of the public have taken Craig and the county council to task for not fully funding the local portion of the school board's request.

Protests were lodged during the last board meeting on July 29, and more are expected when the board meets this Monday night in Bel Air.

'Untenable situation'

"It just has become an untenable situation where the kids are getting hurt by this, and we have to get more funds in our schools," Burbey said.

The teachers' union head said the work to rule action is not just a protest against the cancelling of teacher raises, but to call attention to what he considers school under funding, an issue Burbey has railed about for years and before he became HCEA president.

"If the funding doesn't improve to our schools, you're looking an absolute tragedy to our schools at an absolute wrong time," he said.

"Your goal is to call attention to the crisis in school funding and make sure the community is aware of what is happening," he added.

Adam Mendelson, spokesman for the Maryland State Education Association, the state's teachers' union and parent organization of HCEA, said the work to rule action is "very much a local decision" for Harford's teachers.

"We support our locals in all ways, but that decision on a job action is a local decision, not a state decision," he said.

Burbey would not say what specific actions the local union would take if working to rule does not have an impact.

"Any job action we take will be well within the law and will be ethical," he said.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad