Baltimore teachers will mount a letter-writing campaign to state legislators protesting budget cuts and their effect on the city education budget.
In addition, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has agreed to take another look at an early-retirement plan for teachers that could save up to $5 million, teachers union officials said.
"We're going to work together, our people and his," said Irene Dandridge, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. Dandridge and co-president Loretta Johnson, met with Schmoke after more than 1,000 Baltimore teachers rallied at City Hall last night in a raucous, rush-hour protest against Schmoke's plan to save money by closing school for five days.
Dandridge said the mayor agreed to refer the early-retirement proposal to the city Finance Department for further study.
But the mayor did not back off the furlough plan during the meeting, she said.
During the rally, angry teachers chanted: "Just say no to furloughs!"
The plan would save an estimated $7.5 million, mainly through an unpaid, five-day furlough for all school employees sometime this winter.
The move is part of a far-ranging series of cuts that have hit nearly every part of the city government, the mayor's reaction to a $27.1 million cut in state aid.
But the teachers' union, which announced a "work-to-rule" job slowdown to protest the proposal last week, is in a fighting mood.
Hundreds of teachers marched on City Hall from school headquarters on North Avenue, chanting, waving signs and drawing honks of support from passing traffic.
During the rally, Dandridge said her members already had given up a scheduled 6 percent pay raise this year, a budget-cutting move that cost them $34 million.
And she accused the mayor of ignoring the union's own proposals for saving money, particularly the early-retirement plan that she estimated would save the city $5 million.
"We recognize that they have to have the cuts, but they just took the easy way out," said Dandridge.
Many of those who marched said a five-day shutdown of the schools would hurt children as well as school employees.
"We are 'The City That Reads' and here we are closing libraries and closing schools," said Irene Black, a special education teacher at Hazelwood Elementary School. "They will lose one week of teaching."
"I think it's unfair for education to be the main target of all the budget cuts," said Frank McMiller, a reading teacher at Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School. "The children have suffered enough as it is."
Rosalin Wilcox, a second-grade teacher at Medfield Heights Elementary School, said she worries more about the effect on the education process than about the lost paycheck.
"A dedicated teacher really isn't worried that much about the salary," she said. Whenever schools are closed, children forget."
But teachers do think the furlough is unfair to them financially, said Thomas Parker, a history teacher at Northern Senior High School.
"We have mortgages to pay," he said. "We don't think we should put our families through this kind of hardship."
The teachers got a sympathetic reception from some members of the City Council, who joined BTU leaders on the steps of City Hall.
"We simply came out to say 'No!' to furloughs," said Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd. "We've got to maintain the integrity of our schools."
Council member Vera P. Hall, D-5th, urged the teachers to pressure state legislators on the issue.
Meanwhile, members of the council's Budget Committee were planning to recommend other budget-cutting alternatives to the mayor, said Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, vice chairman of the committee.
They include a possible one- or two-day furlough of all city workers, aside from police and fire employees, he said. That would save at least $2.2 million in payroll each day, he said.
"I hope the mayor's paying attention," DiBlasi said of the teachers' rally.