Teacher unions aim to stave off layoffs

Leaders of the city school system's five employee unions will file into the system's North Avenue headquarters today, bringing with them cost-saving ideas they hope will prevent furloughs, pay cuts or more staff layoffs.

Schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland said this week that she would consider union leaders' recommendations before deciding how to deal with the system's worsening financial crisis.


In order to reduce a $58 million deficit, Copeland has threatened up to 1,200 employee layoffs if unions don't agree to an eight-day furlough or a 6 percent to 7 percent pay cut through June 30.

Close to 700 employees have been laid off since Thanksgiving, and about 100 more will soon receive pink slips.


This week, leaders of the system's unions have been poring over the latest school system audit and taking suggestions from their members, trying to come up with solutions to present to Copeland today.

"We have some ways that we think they can make up the deficit without going on the backs of the workers," said Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta A. English. The BTU represents 7,000 teachers and teacher aides.

Among English's suggestions is that the school system buy the vehicles and grounds crew equipment it currently leases to be able to move those expenditures from the overspent operating budget to the less-strapped capital budget.

Jimmy Gittings, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, which represents about 550 principals and other school managers, said the system needs to cut costly programs, such as the annual systemwide summer school.

"Next, remove all consultants, every single consultant, out of the system," Gittings said. "And our other recommendation is to reduce school and office budgets - nonpersonnel - and let the principals decide what they can do without."

After taking the long Rev. Martin Luther King holiday weekend to review the suggestions, Copeland might be ready to announce as early as next week whether she will impose furloughs, pay cuts or layoffs - or some combination of the three, school system spokeswoman Edie House said.

But many teachers said this week that none of Copeland's options is palatable.

"I think we need to rally for some other [revenue] sources," said Garrett Heights Elementary School teacher Wanda Brown. "I am not prepared to make a choice."


Garrett Heights teacher Kerry McGuire said Copeland should try to get more money from the city or state before proposing pay cuts or furloughs.

"They kept the airlines in business. Why can't they keep the schools in business?" McGuire said. "I don't see why people aren't held accountable."

Garrett Heights kindergarten teacher Takeah Skanes said, "They should just go ahead and lay off because they will see how essential teachers are."

Some city principals, however, said teachers in their schools were choosing to be practical rather than defiant.

"Basically, what I'm seeing here is that if we absolutely must have more cuts, most people would take a furlough over layoffs," said Michael Pitroff, principal of Digital Harbor High School.

At Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School in East Baltimore, Principal Lucretia Coates said she favored furloughs over layoffs.


"We can be creative in scheduling furlough days so they're as little disruptive as possible," Coates said.

"We could take staff development days, which are once a month, and maybe some days over spring vacation."

Meanwhile, many in the community - including at least one elected official - have come up with ideas to help stave off more cuts.

Brown, the Garrett Heights teacher, said the system could save money by offering older teachers early retirement.

Anthony Ross, who was picking up his girlfriend's two children outside of Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary School, said some of the city's wealthiest workers might be able to donate some of their paychecks to the city schools.

"They need to take some of that money from the judges and the lawyers," Ross said. "Because if we don't have enough teachers, they might as well shut down the schools."


City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said he plans to introduce a resolution in the council asking the Maryland General Assembly to give the city permission to tax lottery ticket sales.

All revenue from a 5 percent tax on lottery purchases would go toward reducing the schools' deficit, Harris said. He estimated such a tax could raise up to $30 million in two years.

"I just think they've done enough cuts," Harris said. "There's no more avenues within the school system to pursue. We're depleted. There's nothing there."

If layoffs become inevitable, said Glenard S. Middleton, president of AFSCME Local 44, school officials might have a balanced budget, but they will have to live with their consciences.

"I hope they recognize who these people are they're talking about," said Middleton, who represents about 1,300 workers in the school system, including food service, grounds crew and maintenance workers and bus drivers.

"They're their neighbors. They're the people that they see every day in their communities. They're the people that they worship with."


Sun staff writers Liz Bowie and Mike Bowler contributed to this article.