Schools temper a bad break Leeway is granted on 2 makeup days


The Baltimore County school department is cutting some slack for its teachers and students.

Although the school board last week chopped two days from the middle of its previously scheduled 10-day spring break, administrators yesterday gave principals permission to grant teachers personal leave and students "consideration" for previously made travel plans.

Deputy Superintendent Anthony Marchione notified principals, through electronic mail, that they may "grant personal business leave days to employees with unique scheduling problems," said school spokeswoman Myra Treiber.

The teachers' contract normally prohibits them from using these days -- up to three each year -- just before or after a vacation.

That same notice asked principals to be "considerate of students who need to miss school because of plans made by their families."

These moves may dampen the firestorm that erupted after the board decided to schedule classes on Monday and Tuesday, April 5 and 6, to make up for two snow days and to accommodate a shortened school year brought about by budget cuts. The vacation was originally scheduled to begin after classes Friday, April 2.

Since then, school board members, union officials and the superintendent's staff have been besieged by parents, teachers and students unhappy about the disruption to their vacations, which often included prepaid, nonrefundable travel plans.

*Consider the young music teacher at Pinewood Elementary School who is to be married April 2 and planned a honeymoon on a cruise to the Bahamas.

*Consider that teacher's principal, Robert Strobel. With a dozen other family members, he has already paid for a cruise to the Mexican Riviera.

*Consider Seven Oaks' principal, Karen Schafer, who has a week-long reservation in Florida.

The vacation change is "is the subject of a great deal of conversation," said Dr. Strobel. "There's a lot of unhappiness in the trenches."

And Tom Harvey, the executive director of the Teachers' Association for Baltimore County (TABCO), said "of all the issues this year, this is clearly running a tight race for first. Our members are very concerned that we have not been consulted."

School board President Rosalie Hellman said Tuesday that, because of "an overwhelming response by parents and teachers," the school board may reconsider this year's calendar. "We are still looking to see if we have any options," she said.

But Mrs. Treiber said yesterday that Superintendent Stuart Berger "has looked at every creative option and there are not two [other] days anywhere."

The calendar crisis began about three weeks ago when the board, faced with an order from County Executive Roger B. Hayden to cut $6 million from this year's budget, exchanged two days in June for a small teacher pay cut. Even though the change has not been ratified by the unions involved, the board and Dr. Berger consider those days gone.

Then came two snow closing days, and suddenly the 182-day school year had melted into 178. The state requires 180 days.

Whatever else the board does about this year's calendar, it has promised to "revisit" next year's calendar at its Monday night meeting. That schedule, approved three weeks' ago, also has problems, she said.

One if them is an error in scheduling the Presidents' Day holiday in February. Because of a mix-up, the school holiday does not coincide with the federal holiday, she said.

As as long as the board has to reconsider that error, it will consider another issue that has teachers and parents upset: a decision to start classes a week before Labor Day.

Many parents, such as Joanne Schwarzmann of Freeland, have the same problem with the Aug. 30 opening as others do with the spring break cuts. It pre-empts prepaid vacations. Ms. Schwarzmann said her family has already paid for a trip to Disney World during the last two weeks of August. That means means her two children would have to miss the first week of school.

"My husband and I have never taken them out of school; this doesn't agree with me at all," she said. "But this is a savings of four years. All I want to do is go to Disney World.

The board approved the unprecedented pre-Labor Day opening because the holiday is unusually late and would push the school year well into June, as it is doing this year.

Many are upset because the board gave little notice of the changes and didn't consult with unions, employees or parents.

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