Alexandria teachers, already angry after getting smaller pay raises than they asked for, expressed displeasure last night when the School Board voted to adopt a package of personnel policies that teachers claim is unfair.
More than 100 teachers abruptly left the board meeting, many of them muttering angrily, moments after the 8-to-0 vote, which makes the policies effective when the school year begins in the fall.
"It's unacceptable to us. Totally unacceptable," said Hazel R. Rigby, president of the Education Association of Alexandria. "This just reinforces our opinion that the current board does not support teachers."
Superintendent Robert W. Peebles said the policies are not designed to "come down on teachers, and I am sorry they are being interpreted that way. I hope the teachers will see our intentions are very positive."
The new policies are intended to clearly define what the 10,350-student school system expects of its teachers. Topics such as student discipline and teacher protection are spelled out. Teachers acknowledge that most of the guidelines are helpful and much needed.
But some teachers say several items threaten to sour the relationship between teachers and administrators.
Most bitterly opposed are guidelines that could deny, for the first time, automatic raises for teachers who get unsatisfactory ratings. The new policies call for regular and formal job evaluations. Teachers whose classroom performance is rated unsatisfactory will be denied step raises based on longevity of service.
Rigby maintains that 38 percent of the system's teachers, because they are at the top of the pay scale, no longer qualify for the step pay increments, and an unsatisfactory evaluation would threaten their regular cost-of-living raises. She said the chief problem with the policy is that it cannot be appealed.
School Board Chairman Lou Cook told teachers they will have a chance to dispute the evaluations, and that there will be safeguards against abuse.
Another policy opposed by the teachers sets up a mechanism to monitor teacher sick leave. Cook told teachers last night that the city's teachers have a high absenteeism rate which, she said quoting a study on the subject, has a "negative impact on student achievement."
Last year the average number of sick days taken by the system's teachers was 10.4 days as compared to the national average of 5.7 days, Cook said, defending the administration's need to regain control of the situation.
Charles Barrett Elementary School teacher Judy Starling, who was among about a dozen teachers who spoke against the policy proposals, called the leave monitoring "insulting."
Last month, teachers voted 415 to 97 to reject the personnel policy and a proposed general 3 percent pay raise; the teachers wanted 4 percent raises. Last week, the City Council approved the 3 percent raise.
Teachers also wanted the process in which teachers and representatives of the board meet and discuss pay and personnel matters to remain on a two-year cycle. Last night's policy decision changes it to three years.
Peebles has said the policies represent Alexandria's public schools' attempt to avert what the National Commission on Excellence in Education recently called the "rising tide in mediocrity."
Last night he added that the board's action was helping the school system enter the "movement of reform in accountability in education."