Howard teachers to protest cuts by limiting workday for week


The union that represents 2,700 Howard County teachers, teacher aides, school administrators and secretaries voted last night to protest spending cuts by performing no work outside the regular school day from April 15 to April 19 and holding a rally April 18.

Jim Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, said members "will work the standard seven-hour-and-35-minute dayand take no work home."

Teachers -- 2,200 of the association's members -- are allowed some planning time during the school day, but they say it is not enough and they must stay late or take work home.

Mr. Swab said a survey by the association showed that teachers typically worked 50 to 55 hours a week on school duties. Coaches are under separate contracts and will not be affected by the protest.

He said the protest was aimed at demonstrating the association's opposition to County Executive Charles I. Ecker's request for a Maryland attorney general's opinion that revised the formula for financing increases in enrollment. That ruling will allow Mr. Ecker to cut $3 million from local aid to education.

The association also is concerned that the General Assembly will withhold some money typically earmarked for local education and pass legislation that would permit counties to forgo for a year an increase in funding to keep pace with rising enrollment.

Michael E. Hickey, superintendent of Howard County schools, said "work to rule is potentially disruptive and puts the kids in the middle. . . . It would be a poor strategy for them to do that. I don't know if a large segment of the staff would back it, if it were done. It pits one teacher against another. It makes little sense to tell elementary kids how unhappy they are about politics."

Mr. Swab said the association's representative council, with members from each school, voted 42-10 at a closed meeting last night atWilde Lake Middle School in Columbia to "work to contract" for a week and to hold a protest rally after school hours April 18.

The protest probably will be outside the county office building in Ellicott City, he said.

"I don't think the association has ever taken such action, but we have never been under attack by bills in the General Assembly, and never has there been such a threat by a county executive to withhold moneyused to pay for student growth," he said.

"We hope by our actions to alert parents about what is happening in Annapolis and at the county level. We see these actions out of Annapolis as being a threat by the state to control local education."

He said the association was holding to its demand that the 6 percent raise it negotiated with the county school board be honored next school year. Mr. Ecker has recommended that the teachers forgo the raise because the county is faced with a fiscal crisis.

Mr. Hickey said the county school board still supported the 6 percent raise for teachers, "but we are not certain about the financial picture until the legislative session in Annapolis is over. Our position is that what we negotiate, we will try and fund unless our hands are tied. We have gone as far as we can go. If there is another cut of $3 million by the executive, it will boil down to whether we give salary increases or have layoffs."

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