Hoping to prevent additional layoffs in the Baltimore school system, principals and other administrators told school officials yesterday that they would accept an eight-day furlough as an alternative cost-cutting measure to pay down the school system's $58 million cumulative deficit.
Jimmy Gittings, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, which represents about 500 principals and other school managers, said the group voted Wednesday night at a city elementary school to accept the furlough days.
Schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland has told the school system's five employee unions that she would have to cut between 1,000 and 1,200 jobs - most of them teaching positions - if workers did not accept a 6 percent to 7 percent pay cut or an eight-day furlough.
"Although I just hate to ask any employee to take a salary reduction, I really applaud the members of [the principals and supervisors union] for stepping up to the plate and donating eight furlough days to the system," Copeland said.
Gittings said the voting was one-sided with at least 95 percent of the 210 administrators who cast ballots choosing furloughs over pay cuts - and more importantly over layoffs.
"It was a very difficult decision, but we have a very strong and active group of administrators here that think first about the children, and we don't want to see any teachers laid off," Gittings said.
Other employee groups, including the Baltimore Teachers Union - which has about 6,000 members and is the largest of the five unions that represent school employees - plan to vote today on Copeland's options.
"We thought that we would step forward first," Gittings said. "We don't want to see any more layoffs."
The system has announced the layoffs of about 800 employees since the beginning of the school year.
Teachers union President Marietta English said it was "unfortunate" that the administrators and supervisors voted ahead of the other unions.
"It would have been nice if we could have all done it together," she said.
English said the administrators' decision would not have an effect on today's teachers' vote.
"I don't think it will influence the teacher vote at all," English said. "That's not even going to change my opinion."
English has been saying for weeks that the school system should not punish the teachers, with loss of pay, to pay down the deficit.
Early this week, some teachers said they planned to vote "none of the above" during today's voting session. English said that sentiment seemed to be the prevailing one yesterday.
Gittings said the administrators agreed to the furlough with a caveat: The school system must approve a "reasonable contract" with the group, he said. None of the school unions, except for the teachers, have a current contract with the system.
But Gittings said his members are hopeful that other cost-saving options might prevent furloughs or pay cuts, and he said Copeland's goal of erasing the system's deficit by July of next year was too ambitious.
"I spoke with Marietta [English] Tuesday in regards to the possibility of the ... union presidents going to Annapolis to possibly meet with the governor to try to persuade him that this 18-month period of eliminating this debt is too short," Gittings said. "We need to eliminate this over a five-year period."