A chart of area teachers' pay accompanying an article in Sunday's Metro section incorrectly listed the salary of Arlington County teachers because of incorrect information provided by the school system. An Arlington teacher with a master's degree and 15 years of experience is paid $41,104. (Published 9/9/87)
ANNAPOLIS -- When students arrive at Southern Senior High near here for the first day of school on Tuesday, their teachers plan to be standing on the steps to greet them holding protest banners.
A summer vacation has done little to calm the anger of teachers at Southern, and other Anne Arundel County public schools, since the County Council gave them a 6 percent pay raise after they negotiated an 8 percent raise with the county school board.
The teachers, among the lowest paid in the Washington area, voted Monday to work to rule, refusing to do any unpaid work besides classroom preparation outside normal school hours.
They also voted to lobby the state legislature to amend the law so that the school board is elected -- giving it more power in dealing with the County Council -- and to start a petition drive to change the county charter so voters could recall the county executive and County Council.
Although the actions by the county teachers promise no immediate solutions, they said it is an effort to keep the public's attention focused on the issue of low teacher pay.
Yet the campaign promises to be difficult for the teachers, whose union efforts are hampered by restrictions barring strikes and who admit that few teachers actually leave the system for higher paying jobs in the neighboring counties. The teachers also are venting much of their frustration against a popular and strong opponent, County Executive O. James Lighthizer, who worked to get the 8 percent raise trimmed by the council.
"We have not forgotten; we have not atrophied over the summer," declared Susie C. Jablinske, president of the Teachers' Association of Anne Arundel County, which represents about 90 percent of the county's 3,900 teachers.
"We know who the enemy is."
For Jablinske, and many teachers interviewed since the wage dispute began in the spring, the enemy is Lighthizer -- the man who would not give them their money.
Lighthizer, when speaking of the teachers' vote last week, said, "We parents don't particularly enjoy this kind of irresponsible chicanery.
"It's their right to work to rule. It's clearly an effort to monkey with the system, to cause trouble."
Lighthizer, who has two children in public schools, insisted that teachers are not underpaid and said he wants the school board to show more financial responsibility.
He said last week that he is considering asking the state legislature to let him appoint school board members. Board members currently are appointed by the governor.
Lighthizer, who has earned a reputation as a tough manager during four years as executive, has little power over the Board of Education except when it submits its budget to him and to the County Council.
After receiving the budget in the spring, Lighthizer wanted to cut the proposed increase to 4 percent but offered 5 percent, said county officials who discussed the raise with him. The budget was then passed to the council, which, after consultations with Lighthizer, agreed to increase the raise to 6 percent.
With that raise, teachers in Anne Arundel say, they fell further behind teachers in nearby counties. Teachers in Montgomery received a 9.5 percent raise, while those in Prince George's and Howard counties recieved 8 percent.
Currently, a teacher with a master's degree and 15 years' experience -- a typical teacher in the Washington area -- makes $33,143 in Anne Arundel, $35,896 in Howard, $36,034 in Prince George's, $38,054 in the District, $39,830 in Montgomery and $43,415 in Fairfax.
While teachers are rightly disappointed with their pay, said Gregory Stiverson, chairman of United Public Schools of Annapolis, an organization of parents and teachers, "I don't think it's going to mean we have a flight of good, dedicated teachers from Anne Arundel County. I think it's more in the long term that we have to be concerned. If we continue to fall behind neighboring jurisdictions, we may well lose the best of the new teachers coming into the area."
Lighthizer said the county could find money to pay teachers more, but it would mean taking it away from other government programs.
"I'm not going to tell you that we can't afford it, though we have to have a healthy fund balance," he said. "I just think 5 or 6 percent was a fair offering . . . . My object is to pay a competitive wage that more or less comports with market conditions. We don't have a teacher shortage. The fact is they aren't leaving."
Teachers agreed that there has been no mass exodus from the county. Most said it is simply too difficult for most teachers to move out of the area once they and their families have settled here. Furthermore, many area school systems will not give a teacher credit for more than six years' teaching experience elsewhere.
Sylvia McEntegart, a math teacher at Southern, said she is unhappy with her pay but will keep teaching despite her dissatisfaction because she enjoys the job, and her family enjoys living in the area.
In addition, she said, she wants salaries to increase so that good teachers will be available for her two children.
"When you haggle over a percent here and there, it's not so much for me," she said. "It's a fact that I want teachers to be better paid, but I also want qualified math and science teachers for my children."
The concern of parents and the public in the county school system is less visible in Anne Arundel than in counties such as Prince George's and Montgomery, partly because there are no large school board election battles. But in a poll last year of 405 county voters commissioned by the teachers' association, 26 percent said education was the most important county issue -- second to growth and development cited by 28 percent.
Of those surveyed in the poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Research Inc., 77 percent said they favored increasing local funding for public education, and 80 percent said they favored increased teachers' salaries. In addition, 67 percent said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to increase local teacher salaries. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Negotiations for the next teachers' contract are scheduled to begin in October. County Council Chairman Virginia Clagett said she believes the teachers' salaries will be raised over the years, rather than in one swoop.
"I'd like them to get to a higher plateau, but it just can't be done all in one year," Clagett said. A sudden large raise would be too expensive for the county to handle without cutting important programs, she said, and would leave other unions clamoring for similar raises that the county could not afford to pay.
"We'd have an absolute mutiny," she said. "I think we went as far as we could go this year without making a mockery of the other unions. Each segment thinks they give a lot to the county. You have to think of their perception of their own jobs."
The teachers' association and school board don't have to worry about this, Clagett said. "But Jim Lighthizer does."