Students relate fallout from teachers' boycott


Weighing in on a decision by teachers at five Carroll County schools to boycott extracurricular activities for which they are not paid, nearly three dozen North Carroll High School students attended yesterday's school board meeting to explain how the teachers' work-to-rule job action has made their days less fulfilling and threatened their college careers.

Students described how the ski club and Spanish club can't meet and how members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes have resorted to holding their meetings, without an adviser, under a tree outside school or in the parking lot. Upperclassmen expressed concerned that the void will leave them unable to prove their versatility and activism on college applications. Yearbook staffers said they are unsure how to plan this year's edition, particularly with 40 pages typically dedicated to clubs and activities.

"If we organize the book based on the number of clubs we have now, what do we do if the clubs come back?" asked Katie Black, editor of North Carroll High's Quo Vadis (which is Latin for "where are you going?"). "And if we plan the number of pages based on clubs we've always had, what do we do with all the blank pages if work to rule doesn't end?"

Unsure of how school board members could resolve the situation, the students asked only that they do something to help.

The work-to-rule job action began at Linton Springs Elementary late last month and gradually has spread to at least four other Carroll schools. Upset with their workload and the way one tentative contract agreement collapsed and a deal with lesser raises was made, some teachers decided to work more closely to the terms of their contracts and refuse before- and after-school activities.

The job action, the first of its type in Carroll in at least 20 years, has left clubs without advisers and required parents to fill in as chaperons and ticket-takers at dances and athletic events. It could expand today when union representatives from the county's 37 schools meet to discuss whether teachers at all schools should boycott the extra activities.

"I agree and the board agrees that students are being hurt," Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said at yesterday's meeting. "This work to rule is highly unusual. There have been a lot of them in the state and throughout the country, but it's always when you don't have a ratified, signed agreement. I've not heard of one being implemented when you have a signed, negotiated contract. They come up when you have unresolved issues from the bargaining table."

Union members overwhelmingly approved a contract early this month that included the equivalent of a 4 percent raise over the next two years on top of automatic pay increases teachers receive as they move up the salary scale, boosting the starting teacher's salary to $32,320 this year and $33,289 next year. Teachers at the top of the scale - those with 30 years' experience, a master's degree and 60 additional credits of graduate coursework - will earn $65,527 this year and $67,493 the year after. The average Carroll teacher earns $46,840 a year.

Students and parents expressed particular concern yesterday over the absence of a National Honor Society at North Carroll this year. French teacher Elizabeth Foyle, the society's adviser for at least the past two years and a longtime volunteer with the group, decided at the end of last school year not to supervise the group again this year. Work to rule has exacerbated the task of finding a replacement.

Linda Ecker-Beard's daughter, a senior at North Carroll High, is applying for early admission to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and her family will need financial aide to afford the $33,500 annual cost.

"With no National Honor Society and no Spanish club, this is all going to negatively affect [my daughter's] college education and my pocketbook," Ecker-Beard told the board. "Because North Carroll has taken this position, it is a financial concern."

James E. Reter, the schools' former comptroller and a school board candidate, suggested at the meeting that the administration solve the problem by paying teachers for the after-school activities they supervise.

In an interview after the meeting, Ecker said he will consider the suggestion, as a committee of teachers and administrators he appointed discusses how to address the lingering concerns and frustrations that prompted teachers to work to rule.

Cindy Wheeler, president of the Carroll County Education Association, the local teachers union, said she hopes the students' comments will help the community "realize how much of a contribution teachers make with extracurricular activities."

Asked whether teachers might reassess their decision to work to rule, Wheeler said, "Certainly teachers considered all these things before they made the decision to work to their contracts."

North Carroll's teachers met yesterday and decided to continue their job action - the most aggressive step permitted under Maryland law. They are not allowed to strike.

"The thing that sometimes gets lost in all this is that this year's contract dispute was the proverbial last straw," Tony Roman, a social studies teacher, former coach and 21-year educator, said in an interview last night. "Many of the teachers on our staff are veteran teachers and we've gone through many years of taking it on the chin. There comes a time when you need to do something."

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