Choices leave teachers in Baltimore Co. angry Decision on cuts will affect calendar


It seemed like a simple choice. In helping to cut $6 million from this year's school budget, Baltimore County teachers could:

* Trade one-third of 1 percent of their annual salaries -- an average of $133 -- for two fewer days in the classroom in late June.

* Or, be furloughed retroactively for two days the school system lost to snowstorms and lose an average of $400.

But teacher resentment over the shortened spring break that resulted from the snow closings has turned a simple financial decision into something far more complicated.

Their decision will affect not only their pocketbooks, but also the plans that they and thousands of their students' families have made for spring vacation.

Next week the county's 7,000 teachers, represented by the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, will vote on whether to accept the one-third of 1 percent deal or reject it and accept the furloughs.

* If they accept the deal, they'll lose a smaller amount of money. The department will go ahead with its decision to chop two days from the spring break, which will begin on April 7, and classes will end for the year on June 18.

* If they reject the offer and take the furlough, it will cost the teachers more money. But they and their students will get an uninterrupted spring break, starting April 3. Classes will end for the year on June 22.

Angry about the Board of Education's proposal to shave two days off the spring recess, the association's leadership formally recommended that its members reject the school board's original offer of the days in June for a small pay cut.

If they choose the furlough, the county stands to save a lot more money.

The school board's original offer would have saved about $1.3 million. The two-day furlough would save about $2.8 million, according to Emmalynn Holdridge, manager of the school board's budget office.

At Monday night's school board meeting, one teacher called the furlough "punitive" because it would realize more money than the board needs.

School Superintendent Stuart D. Berger replied that the teacher could call the offer anything he wanted, but the board had offered two choices, no more.

"The bottom line is the board bent over backward," said Dr. Berger, who said he was disturbed by the union's decision.

"We could have just said 'you are furloughed.' This is the most reasonable offer anybody could have asked for," he said.

He said the association's leader ship "is trying to leverage us out of the days for spring break. We're not going to be leveraged."

Association president Ed Veit said that the union representatives' decision is "a response to a lot of the instability they see in a lot of the schools. It all came to a head around spring break."

Some teachers say they are opposed in principle to any cut in a pay scale negotiated in their contract more than a year ago.

The Board of Education proposed the salary-for-time swap several weeks ago, after County Executive Roger B. Hayden ordered the system to cut $6 million from its budget. At the time, it was a fairly simple proposal.

But after association leaders tentatively agreed to the deal, schools were closed for two days because of snow. And because the salary-for-time swap had already cut two days from the June calendar, the board took those days out of spring break.

That decision was highly unpopular with teachers, students and parents who had made prepaid vacation plans.

Ultimately, the school system relaxed its rules so that teachers could use personal leave days for travel during the two vacation days that were cut.

The school bus drivers' union has agreed to the original proposal, and leaders of the union representing instructional assistants and clerks has recommended approval.

Dr. Berger said the board would honor its financial deals with these groups no matter what the teachers decide.

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