- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Unions representing St. Mary’s public school employees are calling on their members not to perform extra duties outside of their regular work day when classes resume next week.
They are calling the action “Back to Basics” and say it comes because no raises for teachers or other staff are included in the budget for the upcoming school year.
In a press conference Monday, representatives of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County and the Collective Education Association of St. Mary’s County announced that many school workers have agreed to start the school year providing only basic instruction and meeting basic needs to send a message to both the St. Mary’s County Board of Education and the St. Mary’s County commissioners that educators and other staff deserve respect and support.
EASMC President Anna Laughlin said respect and support would be demonstrated “by funding step increases and COLAs along with the funds required to fund what we need to do our jobs.”
She said those who participate in Back to Basics “are fully committed to ensuring high-quality instruction and service in the assignments we have been hired to do.”
They will not undertake extra-duty assignments not directly related to instruction or the position they were hired to do, she said.
Earlier this summer, the commissioners approved the school system’s budget for the 2014-2015 school year at $194.7 million, of which $93.9 million comes from local sources. Laughlin said there was no money allocated for step increases, cost-of-living adjustments or job reclassifications.
As the budget was being finalized earlier this year, school officials discovered they had underestimated health care costs by millions of dollars. The school system absorbed the deficit through cuts and hiring freezes, and by eliminating planned raises for teachers and other staff.
Union officials noted Monday that 20 years ago the county government allocated 51 percent of its total budget to the public schools, and said that has fallen to 37 percent today.
St. Mary’s County Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said Tuesday he did not vote for the 2015 budget, though it was not because of school spending. He said he refused to sign the budget because of spending elsewhere that he called a “blatant waste of money.”
As for teachers going back to basics, he said he understands their concerns but has mixed feelings. “On an individual basis they must let their conscience be their guide,” Morris said.
During the last school year, employees were given two step increase raises. However, Laughlin said those raises made up for the steps not given in previous years.
She said with no step increases given this year, employees are “falling further behind.”
In addition to not funding raises, this year’s budget cut 35 jobs, at least one from every school.
Laughlin said Monday that teachers are left to pick up the slack.
School board member Cathy Allen said in a phone interview that she understands employee concerns and said, “We do the best we can every year based on the economic constraints under which we operate.”
Going back to basics, Laughlin said, means “those who elect to participate will not accept or be a part of assignments for extra duties that are not directly related to instruction or their primary assignment.”
Examples of what participating teachers might choose not to do include tutoring before and after school, meeting with parents after hours, participating in after-school activities and assigning homework that would have to be graded outside normal working hours. About 80 percent of the 662 EASMC members surveyed said they would participate in the back to basics movement.
Nonteaching school support staff, who are represented by the Collective Education Association of St. Mary’s County, are encouraged to decline overtime work. About 66 percent of support staff surveyed agreed to support the movement.
Faith Abernethy, president of CEASMC said, “A great majority of support employees surveyed have agreed it’s time to go back to basics.”
What it means for support staff, she said, is that those who agree to participate will not have to work overtime when asked. If the support staff does agree to work overtime, they are asked to insist on it being for pay and not for compensation time.
“This way the school system is getting the basic services for which they are paying and can afford to pay and nothing more,” Abernethy said.
After listing additional things support staff may decline doing as part of the campaign, Abernethy said there is “no intention of hurting students or diminishing the quality of service and instruction we provide.”
Students, she said, can expect the same help and service, “the only difference is support employees will do the work required and nothing more.”
Superintendent Michael Martirano said he understands why many employees are embracing the action and he can respect what they are doing as long as no harm comes to children and employees respect and carry out the expectations in the contractual job they signed up to do.
In addition to sending a message to local officials, employees are seeking support from the community.
“To get funding, we need the community to encourage the leaders,” said Sean Sayers, a teacher at Spring Ridge Middle School. “We need the community to encourage the county commissioners, and the only way we can get that to happen is if the community understands what we feel and feels what we feel. That’s the purpose of Back to Basics.
“If it does not directly support our classroom and student learning that happens there, we are not doing it,” he said.
He said when the job is done for the day, those participating are going to go home and focus on themselves and their families. “This community has come to expect so much from us, yet respects us so little. It’s time that we begin respecting ourselves.”
School board member Marilyn Crosby attended Monday’s press conference and said she offered her support to school employees. Parent Lori Swick read a statement on behalf of Lorie Joy, president of the St. Mary’s County Council of PTAs.
“We believe that educators would not take this measure if it were not absolutely necessary to persuade county commissioners to find other ways to balance the budget that does not erode allocation for public education,” Swick read.
Laughlin said until more county funding becomes a reality educators are going to commit to Back to Basics.
“It’s not fair to decrease funding year after year and increase expectations in the classroom and on work sites,” she said.