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Hundreds of Baltimore County educators rally outside Board of Education meeting over contract negotiations

Hundreds of Baltimore County educators dressed in red and carrying signs rallied outside the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, calling for higher pay, more paid planning time and more resources inside schoolhouses as contract negotiations between unions representing educators and the school system drag on.

Since negotiations began in October, Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said “there has been very little movement" forward on the issues most important to educators.

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“The board is going to be voting on their budget in two weeks,” Sexton said. "All five unions are still negotiating their contracts.”

During the board meeting, Sexton said the vote, scheduled to take place before there’s a settlement on a contract is “disconcerting, and does not show respect for what we do.”

Sexton said the school system offered a 1% cost of living raise during contract negotiations, which teachers have said is not enough. The crowd of hundreds of educators booed when a speaker mentioned the 1% offer, showing strong disapproval for what the school system has so far offered to the teachers union.

An increase of 1% “isn’t quite enough compared to the national standards,” said Mandy Howerter, a fifth grade teacher at Carroll Manor Elementary School in Baldwin.

Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl L. Williams is asking for $1.72 billion in operating funds, an extra $114.9 million over the fiscal 2019-2020 operating budget, including an 11% increase in county funding.

Spokespeople for the school system did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Baltimore County teachers with a bachelor’s degree and a standard professional certificate do have a higher starting pay than those in most neighboring jurisdictions, they have a lower maximum salary than those same peers.

In Baltimore County, according to a salary schedule published by the state, teachers with a bachelor’s and standard certificate max their salaries out at $56,305. In the city, teachers with the same qualifications max out at $55,878; at $66,846 in Anne Arundel County, $72,258 in Carroll County, $67,595 in Harford County and $65,019 in Howard County.

Though in some of those jurisdictions teachers require more experience to reach the maximum salary schedule than do teachers in Baltimore County, teachers in every neighboring jurisdiction, except Baltimore City, make more than teachers in Baltimore County do with the same experience level on the job.

“You have classrooms that are just overcrowded, you have most educators working with ... a lack of supplies,” said Veronica Henderson, an education support professional who sits on the Board of Directors for the Maryland State Education Association.

Union officials said teachers are leaving Baltimore County “in droves.”

Sexton said 200 teachers have left since August 2019, and 89% of them had fewer than five years experience.

Marcie Cook, vice president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County and a ninth grade teacher at Crossroads Center in Middle River, said staffing numbers have dropped “immensely.”

“We can’t get substitutes, there’s not enough planning time,” Cook said.

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Teachers are supposed to receive 250 hours of paid planning time each week, central office resource teacher Jennifer Weaver said, but “even if we got all of those minutes each week, which we don’t, it would not be enough to do the work that we do.”

In addition to higher pay that’s on par with neighboring counties, the educators are asking for better discipline policies in school buildings, contract language that addresses “teacher trauma” and more paid planning time.

“Can you imagine trying to work, let alone teach, after watching one student assault another with a belt buckle?" Helen Groves, a Baltimore County teacher, asked board members. "Can you imagine trying to teach after [police arrest a child] outside your classroom? This is what teachers face every day within” the school system.

Groves called for the board to establish discipline plans for all schools, including developing a response to "teacher trauma, another major issue driving educators from the classroom.”

“We can’t go on this way,” she said.

Shae Savoy, head of government relations for TABCO and an English teacher at Woodlawn High School, said she tabulated data volunteered to the union by 75 educators over two weeks to determine how much time outside of their paid hours teachers spend working.

According to the data and analysis done by Savoy, the average BCPS teacher “donates” 22 hours per week to the school system by doing work outside of their paid duty hours.

She called those numbers “eye-opening and almost heart-attack making.”

Sexton said teachers are being assaulted by students in schools, and teachers are often tasked with helping students navigate adverse life experiences, both of which can be traumatizing for educators.

Language about discipline in a contract won’t “fix” discipline problems in the school system, Sexton said, but it will create accountability within school buildings and “start to address” discipline concerns.

During the union rally outside the board of education meeting, Jackson Smith, a seventh grader who attends Loch Raven Technical Academy, said he and his classmates are often disrupted in the classroom by other students. Disciplinary problems have harmed teachers and made students anxious about going to school, he said.

“Our learning is harmed by this, obviously," Jackson said.

The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the superintendent’s proposed budget on Feb. 25. The budget would then move to the county government for approval.

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