Joining a similar action taken by teachers at Ring Factory Elementary School on Friday, approximately 40 Bel Air High School teachers left school for the day on Tuesday at 2:20 p.m., answering their union’s call for all Harford County teachers to work only the hours required by their contract with the school board.
In a tip to The Dagger, one Bel Air HS teacher explained:
“These BAHS teachers are choosing to comply to the exact language of their contracts in response to several instances over the past several years of HCPS violating this same contract and not negotiating with the HCEA in “good faith.”
The Harford County Education Association (HCEA) is the union representing teachers in labor negotiations with the Harford County Board of Education.
To further their cause, HCEA also created a Facebook page entitled “Harford Students Count on Us” and posted a YouTube video of the protest at Ring Factory Elementary School.
Saying they are angry over a lack of raises and broken promises by county officials, Harford County Public School teachers held a protest in Bel Air on Friday, and called for teachers to work only their contracted hours in the next school year and for the remainder of the current year. Teachers who “work to the contract” would no longer volunteer at lunchtime or after school to tutor students or to run extra-curricular clubs and activities.
Organized by the teachers’ union, the Friday afternoon protest in front of Ring Factory Elementary School attracted approximately 100 teachers and was planned to coincide with a visit to the school by Harford Schools Superintendent Robert M. Tomback. The teachers’ union, the Harford County Education Association (HCEA), represents the approximately 3,200 teachers in HCPS in labor negotiations with the school board. Not all teachers are members of the union.
Randy Cerveny, president of HCEA, said on Friday that teachers were angry about the pay scale, a lack of support and a lack of teacher input, with many teachers working extra jobs to make ends meet and some unable to afford living in the county. Teachers held up signs reading “Fund Public Education” and “Honk! If You Support Education!”, which prompted accommodating responses from passing motorists.
A flyer being distributed at the protest read, in part:
“HCPS is taking advantage of its teachers and we need to start taking action! We need to act as a unified force to let the community know what it happening to us! No raises, no cost of living increases, taking away our already promised stipend & bonus day…Why do we keep doing the things we do, such as providing FREE after school services for the student body?”
Cerveny said that the union didn’t create the flyer, but he said that HCEA supports teachers working to the contract.
Harford County public school employees have not had a raise in three years and HCEA is still locked in a labor battle with the school board over salary increases that were tentatively negotiated for the current school year. The raises, which included a 3% cost of living adjustment, weren’t funded by state or county government last spring, prompting the ongoing re-negotiations.
A paid bonus day proposed for the end of this school year is another source of conflict for teachers. The paid bonus day was offered by the school board last June to all employees in lieu of the unfunded raises for the current school year. Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for HCPS, said that the teachers’ union rejected the bonus day, which was accepted by other employee unions.
Cerveny acknowledged that the teachers’ union rejected the paid bonus day, but said that there was conflicting information from HCPS about the date, and teachers at the protest complained of a broken promise by the school board.
Cerveny said he was told by HCPS that the last day for teachers would be June 13, and the “2011-12 Printable Calendar” posted on the HCPS Web site had that day listed as such, given the two inclement weather days used during the year.
But Kranefeld said in an email to teachers last week that, because the union rejected the bonus day offered, their last day would remain June 14, a date that had been on the school system’s web site and in the 2011-12 Parent-Student Handbook and Calendar. Kranefeld told The Dagger that the calendar showing June 13 as the last day for teachers was in error and would be corrected.
Bel Air High School math teacher Susan Taylor became tearful as she explained that she had planned to go crabbing on the 14th with her father, who was ill and needed surgery. “Now, I’m going to be sitting in my classroom,” she said.
Trina Hill, a special educator from Magnolia Middle School said she was spending the Friday afternoon before the Memorial Day weekend at the protest “because enough is enough”. Apparently referring to Harford County’s fund balance, which a financial consultant for the union has said could be used for education, Hill said, “This is a rainy day, right now.”
Teachers also decried the loss of the second half of a $1,250 one-time bonus, announced for all county employees in October by Harford County Executive David Craig. The first half of the bonus was paid, but the second half, which was to be paid in June, was rescinded by Craig on May 22. Craig said that the funds were needed to pay for the cost of teacher pensions, which is being shifted from the state to local governments beginning next year.
About midway through the rally, Cerveny and a group of protesters assembled outside the main door of Ring Factory to await the emergence of staff members who had boycotted their faculty meeting that afternoon with Harford Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback. As the Ring Factory teachers exited the building, they were met with applause from those assembled outside. Cerveny explained that the applause was to thank staff for leaving at 3:50 p.m., when their contract day was over.
Ring Factory teacher Mary Jane Ciufo was among those who walked out of the school, which was named a 2012 Maryland Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Ciufo said that most of the faculty stayed away from the meeting with Tomback, where attendance was voluntary.
About a half hour later, Dr. Tomback was seen getting into his car, which was parked near the rear of the school building. As he headed out of the parking lot and past the protesters who remained, Tomback smiled and waved before going on his way.
“Plan of Action”
Teachers’ next steps include a demonstration at the June 11th school board meeting to be held at the A.A. Roberty Building in Bel Air. According to the protest flyer, the “Plan of Action” includes a gathering in the parking lot at Bel Air High School, followed by a march to the board meeting.
Teachers are encouraged to bring signs “explaining what you will NOT be doing anymore after or during school for the [2012-13] school year. Activities such as after school clubs, lunch help, Talent Shows, Dance Committees, extended day field trips…NEED TO STOP!”