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News Opinion

It's about fairness, not greed [Commentary]

There are lots of words I could use to describe my colleagues, but greedy isn't one of them.

In a recent Baltimore Sun article ("Foose says Howard County union events could put teachers in bad light," April 10), School Superintendent Renee Foose was quoted as saying she would not want the public to respond to the Howard County Education Association's (HCEA) job actions over our stalled salary and workload negotiations by thinking "that teachers are being greedy." I agree with Ms. Foose because greedy is the last word that comes to mind. Frustrated, disrespected, disappointed — yes; greedy — no.

Teachers in top-ranked Howard County are seeking their usual multi-year contract, which allows union members to plan a bit for the future, as is the norm in many Maryland counties. They are seeking to continue to be paid a bit more for each year of job experience and to receive cost-of-living increases.

Teacher pay in Howard County has been basically unchanged in six years. Our teachers are seeking the same kinds of increases granted to their neighbors and friends with similar professional resumes now that the economic recovery has solidified. Moreover, teachers are asking for sufficient time to plan their lessons, meet with colleagues and review new curriculum before it is implemented. In response, teachers have been offered a one-year contract, with phased-in increases over the year that don't appear to reach the superintendent's stated ceiling of "up to five percent." Negotiations over planning and preparation are at an impasse.

Howard's teachers are a talented crop: They're hard working, knowledgeable and kind. It's not difficult to find teachers who earned 4.0 GPAs as college students or teachers with masters degrees from prestigious universities. In a recent presentation of a Gallup survey commissioned by HCPSS, it was noted that the lowest engagement in school personnel was among those in our system's Central Office staff, not teachers, most of whom are waking up each day committed to make a difference in the lives of their students.

My talented colleagues are engaged every day, differentiating instruction for every student in their classes. Long after the school day ends, they are coordinating STEM fairs (showcases of projects in science, technology, engineering and math); attending Cultural Celebration nights; leading student music performances; grading papers and writing IEPS (Individual Education Programs for students receiving special education services). They are teaching English to new immigrants and calling social workers for the family with needs far beyond the teacher's training. They are writing evaluation reports for students in special education and continuing their own education in graduate courses. They are looking for bits of time to complete the ever-lengthening list of on-line training modules with topics ranging from bloodborne pathogens to bullying. They are mentoring new teachers, mentoring troubled students and looking for time to collaborate with their colleagues.

Howard County teachers, who have turned up in large but quietly respectful numbers at board meetings, struggled along with everyone else when our economy was in a downturn. But times are better; neighboring counties are paying their teachers far more; and our dedicated staff wishes to pay their bills, send their kids to college and save for retirement like others do. So my inherently polite schoolteacher colleagues have now responded in ways that only show their respect for their students — dressing up in professional attire that is not necessarily appropriate for their classroom responsibilities (preschool special educators in pearls!) and actually leaving the building at the end of their contractual school day, but only on days of specified "action."

Howard County traditionally attracted the best and brightest teachers. Now some are fleeing the county. And some newly minted teachers who would have in the past sought a position in Howard County are turning to neighboring counties instead as they look for better compensation and more respectful leadership.

Howard County, where our award-winning libraries' "Choose Civility" motto and initiative is present on the bumper stickers of residents' cars and banners in county buildings (including the school board meeting room), need not worry that their teachers might be construed as greedy. Instead our residents may wonder why their cherished teachers who are so busily working for our county's children are being treated so poorly. Greed is hardly the issue.

Bonnie Bricker is a teacher in Howard County and a freelance writer. She can be reached at bonbricker@gmail.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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