Teachers union to vote on options

Some Baltimore teachers hope to rally their colleagues to vote against any of the cost-saving options that the city school system has proposed to pay down a multimillion-dollar deficit - a move that could force system officials to lay off more than a thousand employees.

The system's 6,000 teachers are scheduled to decide today whether to accept the system's proposals, which include a pay cut of 6 percent to 7 percent through the rest of the school year or eight furlough days, at a union meeting at Polytechnic Institute.

Schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland has said that up to 1,200 city school workers - most of them teachers - could be laid off if employee unions do not take one of the options to cut payroll expenses.

For many teachers, none of the proposed fixes is palatable.

"They're not giving us any real options," said Shannon Stormont, a third-grade teacher at Charles Carroll Barrister Elementary School.

Kojo McCallum, a union representative at Charles Carroll Barrister, said he is encouraging teachers at his and other schools to vote "none of the above" at today's union meeting.

"We need to take charge and say, 'We're not going to take this anymore,'" he said. "We are here for the kids, but we're also here for ourselves, too. We have to feed our families."

McCallum said taking a pay cut would irreparably harm teachers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, even if the city manages to pay back the money when the deficit is eliminated, as Copeland has said. Copeland has suggested employees could be paid back, assuming additional funding comes from the state next fiscal year.

"What are you going to tell the landlord or the baby sitter?" asked McCallum, a fourth-grade teacher. "You can't tell [Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.], 'We'll pay you in 2005 when Baltimore gives us our money back.'"

Third-grade teacher Jennifer Moore said she sides with McCallum.

"I work so hard for the little amount of money that I make; I just don't see why I should have to give some of my money to the city [school system] when I didn't create the problem," said Moore, who has been a city teacher for a year-and-a-half. "I'd rather lose my job than give money to Baltimore City to fix their problems."

Stormont, also in her second year of teaching, said she planned to vote against both options because they "hold teachers accountable" for administrative failings.

"I feel like they're holding the layoffs over our heads," she said. "I don't know if they could feasibly lay off 1,200 teachers."

Copeland said yesterday that she hoped teachers realized the serious impact 1,000 to 1,200 layoffs would have on the city's 90,000 schoolchildren.

"That would really bankrupt the system," Copeland said. "I don't know how on earth we could deliver instruction to young people with a thousand to 1,200 fewer employees."

Copeland said that layoffs and the subsequent ripple effect would affect many more teachers than just those who would be laid off. Union contracts would force school officials to start layoffs with the least experienced teachers. Then, more veteran teachers would be transferred to schools left short-handed.

"The ones remaining probably wouldn't be in the same classrooms," she said. "That's my greatest concern. Children would be even more disrupted in the middle of the school year."

McCallum said union representatives from 10 schools met Saturday to discuss employees' options.

If school officials impose pay cuts after today's vote, he said, the school-based union representatives plan to encourage teachers to take other actions, such as staging "sick outs" or working 7 percent less every day.

About 200 teachers, represented by those union representatives, have agreed to participate, McCallum said.

Copeland declined yesterday to comment on possible teacher actions. But she urged teachers to consider the students.

"I know it's a hardship right now. I truly understand that," she said. "I just don't know anyplace else that we can go."