Prince George's county teachers, seeking a substantial pay raise in an increasingly emotional contract struggle with the county school board, won one battle but lost another within the same hour last week.
The teachers rejected the board's offer of a 9.1 percent cumulative or 6.8 percent annual raise and "sicked out" by the hundreds, closing Suitland High School on Wednesday, G. Gardner Shugart Junior High on Thursday and Lord Baltimore Junior High on Friday.
At last Wednesday's meeting the school board voted to adopt Superintendent Edward J. Feeney's preliminary school budget, subject to modification, and not to submit it to County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan until the statutory deadline, March 1. Nearly 1,000 teachers showed up at the meeting to back union president John Sisson's request that the board do just that.
On the other hand, the board obtained a preliminary injunction against further teacher job actions the same evening.When more than 300 teachers failed to show up for work the next day, the board went back to court for 78 contempt citations against teachers who could not produce notes from their doctors.
Negotiations resumed this week, with the teachers still asking for a 21 percent raise, down fromtheir original demand for a 42.4 percent increase.
This week, reporter Virginia Mansfield asked county residents whether they felt the sick-out was justified, and how they thought the teachers' campaign for higher pay might affect education in the classrooms:
Fred Coleman, 41, computer analyst, Hyattsville: "I think the teachers deserve more pay, but they shouldn't make the kids suffer for it. If the kids don't make up the time lost during the summer it's definitely going to affect their education."
Sean Coleman, 9, fourth grader at Ridgecrest Elementary, Hyattsville: "I'm not sure if the teachers deserve more money. None of the teachers at my school have called in sick . . . They (the teachers) haven't discussed it in class, but all of them are wearing red arm bands."
Ian Coleman, 13, seventh grader at Rollingcrest Junior High, Hyattsville: "Some of my teachers have discussed it (the sick-out) and others have no comment. The kids have asked about it in class and it's been discussed. It will affect my education only if they (the teachers) don't get what they want."
Rod Sherrill, 17, a senior at High Point: "I think the P.G. teachers have been really cool. It's not like in D.C., when everyone went on strike for like 23 days, and lost all that money. By having just a few teachers go on strike at a time, they've really got the administration on edge. They don't know what to expect next. I think it's really ingenious, it's so sneaky. I just hope they don't keep it up too long because I want to graduate."
Tamerate Zewdie, 30, graduate student and part-time taxi driver, of Hyatsville: "I understand the problem from both sides. I drive a taxi and gas keeps going up and we need more money, but can't get it, so I sympathize with the teachers. On the other hand, I'm a student . . . They are the ones that get hurt by all of this. Every single day you miss as a student is precious time."
Paula Bess, 25, Brentwood: "I think it's awful. What are the kids going to do? They may go out and get themselves in trouble. It will definitely hurt the kids. For some reason kids are harder to teach these days. The way I feel is, if they don't learn nothing then they won't do nothing."
Lisa Tran, 21, university student and part-time waitress, College Park: I'm not sure how much teachers make, but if they had to attend four years of college then they deserve at least $14,000 a year. It (low pay) could affect the kids' education because if the teachers aren't happy then they will start to neglect the students. I know that some days I work really hard and the pay isn't good, so sometimes I start to neglect the customer. I think it's the same for teachers."
William Ordman, 61, Greenbelt: "I think a sick-out is wrong. The teachers should be intelligent enough to let their union do the bargaining. The people who are really being hurt by all this are the teachers who are legitimately sick."
Steve Knighton, 15, student at High Point: "I think they should get the 9 percent raise, especially since it's going to affect us. . . . If this continues I may have to take the 10th grade over again."
Rosemary Barksdale, 30 typist for the International Association of Machinists, Oxon Hill: "I'm in a union, and we may be going through the same thing. I don't know how much teachers make, but if it's less than $20,000 a year then I don't know how they can get along. I think they should strike."
Michael Gueory, 18, pathology assistant at Howard University, Landover: "I think most teachers put in more time then they're supposed to. I had teachers who used to sit down and talk to me all the time after school and it was all on their own time. One year I was making bad grades, B's and C's. . . . My teachers said they were going to flunk me because they knew I could do better. Well, they were right, the next quarter I was making A's and B's. Without teachers there is no future."