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Arundel Teachers to Grade Boss

Contract Impasse Adds to Unhappiness With Smith

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 16, 2005; Page B04

Anne Arundel teachers said yesterday that they will evaluate Superintendent Eric J. Smith by mail, and if a majority gives him a poor rating, the union probably will take a vote of no confidence in the instructional leader.

The Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County announced the possible no-confidence vote along with a package of other job actions to protest an impasse in negotiations with the school board, which broke down last month.

"We have a workforce right now that gets less and less happy every year," Bill Jones, executive director of the union, said at a news conference.

Teachers will start a work-to-rule action Monday, meaning that the union faithful will keep to the exact hours specified in their contracts and will cancel all volunteer school-related activities until further notice. Union members will begin holding "informational pickets" at board meetings, job fairs and other such opportunities, said union President Sheila Finlayson.

The impasse in negotiations is chiefly about salary: Anne Arundel ranks 15th among 24 Maryland school systems in teacher pay, though the county ranks third in the state for wealth, according to union figures. Average pay ranks higher in Montgomery, Howard and Prince George's counties, among others.

The school board's final offer to the union in late March allowed for a 3 percent increase in teacher pay, which the union contends would do nothing to close the salary gap with other counties. The union's final offer included the 3 percent increase plus an across-the-board $900 raise in mid-year, roughly equivalent to an additional 2 percent increase. State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick declared an impasse last week at the union's request, the first such stalemate in Anne Arundel since 1996. The impasse sets the stage for possible arbitration.

Discontent with the superintendent, Finlayson said, goes beyond compensation. Teachers who leave the school system cite workload as their top complaint, she said. While much of the extra work can be traced to such external factors as the federal No Child Left Behind requirements, Smith has lost popularity among teachers by mandating double-length block classes in high schools, among other changes.

"The work has increased and the expectations have increased. We recognize that," said Smith, who has convened a task force to study teacher workloads.

Smith chided the union for trying to confuse the issue with the stalled teacher negotiations, which he considers a separate matter.

"I think this is a very unfortunate move" by the teachers union, he said, and also "an unfair move."

The union will create an evaluation form for Smith and mail it to teachers. If responses show poor ratings from a majority, the union will schedule a vote of no confidence in May or June, Jones said.

Such evaluations and confidence votes have been rare. Two years ago, Howard County teachers responding to a school district survey gave a negative appraisal of Superintendent John O'Rourke; the school board did not renew his contract. In a 1990 survey, Prince George's teachers gave their superintendent, John A. Murphy, a grade of C-minus; he left the following year.

Smith came to Anne Arundel three years ago from the Charlotte school system. He arrived with a mandate to improve a decidedly average school system. Test scores have risen during his tenure. But at various times, Smith has found himself at odds with teachers and the school board.

Starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree is $34,691 in Anne Arundel, $36,556 in Howard, $37,191 in Prince George's and $39,457 in Montgomery, according to Maryland State Teachers Association research. While teacher pay has inched upward, property values have almost doubled in three years in some Anne Arundel Zip codes.

"Who can afford to live and work in Anne Arundel County? That's our concern," Finlayson said.

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