Teaching elementary school in Prince George's County was supposed to be a quick step along the road to a high-level school administration job for Marva Scott. But since cutbacks in the county school budget laid her off last June, the normally self-assured teacher fears her career may have taken a permanent detour at the untimely age of 42.
Nearly 6 months into her first bout with involuntary unemployment, Scott, from Temple Hills, has set her sights on a job with Metro.
"I'll even drive a bus if I have to," says Scott, who once ran her own day-care center in Washington. "When I ran my D.C. center I drove the minibus. I have a good record. At this point it's not so much finding the job I want, I just need a job."
Scott is one of 507 teachers who were laid off after the County Council cut the schools' projected $337 million budget to $306 million. Almost 390 of those teachers have not been called back despite early predictions by outgoing county executive Lawrence J. Hogan that normal attrition rates would create hundreds of openings.
Apparently, many of those laid off still hope to go back to teaching because only 28 have formally resigned from the school system, according to personnel department head D. Carl McMillen. Only 13 have reported accepting other jobs.
School officials, who don't have precise figures, say other laid-off teachers have taken temporary jobs, including substitute teaching in the county for $35 per day. Some have also returned to college to acquire additional teaching credentials or to pick up other skills.
Others are waiting out the layoff in the boredom of daytime television. They may have a long time to wait -- County Executive-elect Parris Glendening has already warned that up to an additional 600 county workers may be laid off in the spring, including more teachers, if a solution to the county's ongoing budget problems is not found soon.
Most of the laid-off teachers are married women, according to A. Gregory Beard of the Prince George's Educators Association, the county teachers' union. Beard has been running monthly help sessions to hear teachers' problems and offer advice and aid, but the meetings have been sparsely attended.
"There is despair, cynicism and a certain amount of anger at getting involved with the school system, the association or anything," says Beard.
Some unemployed teachers also share a sense of betrayal by the union whose representatives refused to postpone wage increases and accept unpaid furloughs in order to save most of the teaching jobs.
"They just didn't handle things well at all," says Vera Bowman, a teacher from Mitchellville. "There are people talking about suicide because they can't make their car payments. I personally would have worked five years without any raise at all -- a job at my current salary is better than no job at all."
No two teachers have handled the layoffs in the same way. Age, other household income and family background can mean the difference between an uncomfortable period of idleness and a major life trauma.
Bowman, a third grade teacher, was one of the luckier ones. One month before she was laid off, her family moved into a home costing more than $150,000 with the mortgage paid by her husband's "very good" job with the federal government. Last week, she was recalled.
"I had faith that I was going to be recalled," says Bowman, who began to teach Sunday School at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church soon after she was out of work. "I didn't undergo any kind of trauma or depression. I just went around the house doing things that needed to be done.People asked, 'How could you handle all that without going insane?' -- Well, that's what faith will do for you."
Patricia Brown, 35, a teacher for three years at William Beanes Elementary School in Suitland, feels the union was right not to make salary concessions, even if her layoff has forced her to change her life style.
Brown says she grew up in Baltimore, "not rich, but never wanting for a lot." Now, with a family income reduced from about $50,000 to about $30,000, she's learning how fortunate she once was.
"I didn't know what meat cost per pound," she says of past years. "If it was the size I wanted I bought it. I never cut out coupons before. Now I use them. I like mushrooms in my spaghetti-now I cut out the mushrooms. Little things like that, I don't really like."
Two weeks ago Brown took a temporary job with the county Office of Emergency Preparedness, reviewing applications for the federal energy assistance program, at a better than 50 percent salary cut. After the classroom, the pace takes getting used to, she says.
"I work all day long -- I don't have any breaks. I'm not used to having as long a day without any time to sit down and do for me," Brown says. "Then I don't get home until about 6. It's like several hours extra is taken out of every day . . . Now I know how the other half works."
Brown has escaped the boredom of soap operas and being dependent on unemployment insurance, a combination that is "starting to get to" former elementary teacher Scott.
Marital problems predating the layoff have gotten worse, she says. While she still receives rent and other aid from her husband, her income has dropped from about $20,000 a year (or $385 a week) to $153 per week unemployment for 26 weeks.
Earlier this month, when a niece "who is like a sister to me" had open-heart surgery in Dallas, Scott could not afford to be at her side. And the thought of cutting back on her weekly telephone calls to her aging parents in Mississippi brings her close to tears.
"I'm afraid to spend anything that's not absolutely necessary," she says. "I'm still eating and my house note is being paid, but I have to say no to my [18-year-old] daughter a lot.
"With losing a job and a marriage on the rocks, I wouldn't be able to survive if I didn't have my faith," she continues. "I have been a regular church member and I believe in God."
To relieve her periodic depression, Scott is taking an algebra class at Prince George's Community College. Scott, who is black, is also calling on the strength of her heritage to keep herself going.
"We as black people have not always had a piece of the pie," she says. "I've been poor before -- I'm not going to kill myself."