The Maryland State Board of Education last week turned back the efforts of some Montgomery County school employees to force the county's school board to reinstate a now defunct program under which some 1,815 teachers had obtained summer employment with the school system.
The state board adopted the recommendations of its hearing examiner, Herbert A. Fierst, who said that the county "is not required to permanently retain a 12-months program," which had been in operation since 1967.
The board's decision, the latest in a series of setbacks for the former 12-month teachers - many of whom lost about $1,000 in annual pay because of the decision - is expected to be appealed to the Montgomery County Circuit Court, observers said.
The teachers were employed for the two summer months as librarians, counselors, football coaches, vocational teachers and classroom teachers. The cost of the program in salaries and fringe benefits for the two extra months was about $6.7 million. However, the board did not save that amount in the first year of the program's absence, because of payments and benefits which were arranged as the program was phased out.
"No explicit guarrantee in writing was ever given to the teachers who became involved in the program," Fierst's report said " . . . the county board may well have hoped or expected that the 12-month program would continue permanently.
"But this implicit intention cannot be stretched into an immutable commitment."
William Offcutt, a teacher at Leland Junior High School in Bethesda and a leader of the approximately 700 teachers who are fighting for the reinstatement of the program, contested this statement, saying, "The policy that created this program . . . has been a written guarantee" in seven years worth of contracts with the county school board.
The financial losses to the individual teachers and counselors because of the program's demise were lightened last summer by the board's guarantee of summer employment to many of the former 12-month teachers. However, there is no such guarantee for the coming summer.
"I've no idea what's going to happen this summer. It's every man for himself," said Offutt who estimated that annual salary losses, compared to what the 12-month teachers made in 1975, could run as high as $4,000.
Offutt said he was "not surprised at the (state Board's) decision," and would appeal the ruling. "We wouldn't have gone into this fight unless we thought we had a good case," he saidi.
The Montgomery County Education Association, the bargainer for most of the county's 7,200 teachers and professional employees, has made the reinstatement of the 12-month program a bargaining point in its contract negotiation, and it is one of the points over which the association and the county are now at impasse, according to MCEA President Betty Culotta.
The aggrieved teachers had sued not only the county board but also the MCEA which, they said, did not work hard enough pressing their point for retention of the 12-month program, when the subject was under intensive negotiation a year ago.
However, the state board's hearings examiner was reluctant to make any statement on that specific charge, saying that it would not be "propitious to become involved in determining whether the teachers' bargaining agent failed some of the teachers in the union . . . otherwise . . . (the state board) would find itself thoroughly immersed in the negotiation process itself."
Betty Culotta of the MCEA said this week that "our contention is that we did all we could and then some" in order to keep the 12-month program alive.
She said that MCEA efforts last year had guaranteed that all teachers in the program had some kind of summer employment at a higher rate of daily pay than last year.
In one case, the employee increased his salary by $5,000 because of the change, according to the hearing examiner's report. Most employees however took a pay cut of about $1,000 in the first year after the program was terminated.
In addition to disputing Offutt's group's contention that the MCEA did not do enough for the 12-month program, Cullotta hinted that fighting the board had resulted in a more decisive defeat for the 12-month teachers than they had already suffered.
Quoting from the first finding of the hearing examiner's report, that the county board is not required to maintain the 12-month program, Cullotta said, "These are things that you do not ever want to see put on the public record."
The MCEA's efforts to fight for reinstatement of the program have been weakened, she said, because, "The arguments against it are now more blatant than before."