- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
As the new school year gears up, many St. Mary’s teachers and support staff are vowing to do the jobs they were hired to do — and no more.
The unions representing school employees are calling this campaign Back to Basics, and it means that teachers and staff don’t intend to work beyond the school day called for in their contracts. That could mean no tutoring students before or after school, no communication with parents outside of regular school hours and no homework that teachers would have to grade at home. Support staff could decline to do any overtime work.
This is intended to highlight a simple fact. School workers are not getting a raise this year, a raise that earlier this year they were expecting. In fact, their take-home pay will actually be less than it was last year, because their health insurance premiums will be higher.
It is health insurance costs that created this situation in the first place. The school board and school administrators badly underestimated those costs in last year’s budget, and in the initial preparations for this year’s budget. By the time this multimillion dollar oversight was discovered and revealed, the county commissioners had already decided how much money they were going to allocate to the schools. They did not increase that amount, so $4 million planned to give raises to more than 2,000 school employees is going instead to help cover the budget gap.
At a time when the national economy is improving and wages stalled by the recession that began in 2008 are beginning to rise again, the pay of St. Mary’s school workers is stagnant as housing and other costs are rising.
The Back to Basics pledge is actually a measured response to all of this by school employees, and deliberately allows leeway for individual teachers and support staff to make their own decisions about how much work to do off the clock.
But no matter how many school workers participate, this Back to Basics initiative will not result in a raise for school workers this year. The county commissioners will not revisit the school budget for this fiscal year. School union leaders certainly know this. The real aim, they have signaled, is to generate community support for more education funding in the future. A new set of county commissioners will be elected this year, and so will two members of the school board.
Those who care about the future of public education in St. Mary’s have reason to hope that Back to Basics succeeds as a public awareness campaign. For all the turmoil earlier this year about how school administrators handled the budget, the fact is that St. Mary’s schools spent less per student last year than any other district in Maryland.
But as a day-to-day practical matter, parents and students should hope that Back to Basics is not rigidly applied. Students who need and ask for extra attention shouldn’t be denied help to make a political point. Working parents who want to communicate with teachers outside of school hours shouldn’t be ignored. If homework is essential to reinforce classroom lessons it shouldn’t be skipped.
Teachers are professionals who, we hope, are in the classroom because they believe in what they are doing. They know going in that their work doesn’t stop when the buses take students home for the day.
But this shouldn’t be thankless work, and they shouldn’t be overloaded with paperwork and picking up the slack left by the reduced staffing that is also the result of the health care cost fiasco. It is time that the community pays attention to the people we count on to educate our children.