Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) said yesterday that he wants to spend $8 million to install a telephone in every classroom over the next two years, a project he said will improve school safety and teachers' working conditions.
Despite a nationwide push to expand Internet connections into classrooms, most teachers still don't have a basic phone line of their own. If funding is approved by the General Assembly, Maryland would be among the first to install classroom phones statewide.
"To treat teachers like professionals, we must make it as easy as possible for them to consult with colleagues and to talk to parents about the progress of their children's education," the governor told the annual conference of the state teachers union in Ocean City.
The plan was warmly received by educators, who say phones are key to improving conditions for teachers at a time when many are leaving the profession complaining that they don't have enough materials or support to do their jobs.
"When you enter any modern office building, on every secretary's desk and manager's desk is a telephone," said Iris T. Metts, superintendent of Prince George's County schools. "Here we have teachers--professionals!--who don't have any of those devices ready for individual use."
The telephone proposal is the latest in a series of state initiatives aimed at remedying a looming teacher shortage by trying to make the profession more appealing. State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is pushing to hire more teacher mentors, while Glendening has promoted teacher scholarships. Earlier this week, Glendening proposed low-interest mortgages for teachers who live in their school district. Yesterday, he urged counties to raise teacher salaries.
Telephones are a relatively small incentive--but one that is growing in popularity. A few school systems have started installing them, including Baltimore County, which has wired nearly half of its schools since 1995. Across the country, more than a third of all new high schools under construction include classroom phone lines, according to a survey by School Planning and Management magazine.
Interest in classroom telephones picked up after the shootings in Columbine High School, where some teachers and students called for help on cellular or classroom phones.
While some schools have started installing metal detectors or surveillance cameras, many teachers have asked for phones as their security device of choice.
In some phone-equipped classrooms, however, teachers complain that lessons have been disrupted by constant ringing, with too many parents calling and demanding to discuss minor issues in the middle of a class period.
Metts said that she will install voice-messaging systems to deal with that problem in Prince George's schools. Mike Morrill, the governor's spokesman, said the state will pay for basic phone service and will urge school districts to supplement it with voice-mail or other features.
Metts noted that parents and teachers now have a hard time getting in contact. If parents call, they usually have to leave a message with a front-officer secretary. Teachers have to wait for a break to retrieve messages, then try to stake out a phone in the faculty lounge, where there may be fewer than five phones for 125 teachers.
Glendening also promised yesterday to fund more high-speed Internet cable lines into schools and to train 600 more teachers a year to use the computers now being installed in their classrooms. His spokesman said that no dollar amount has yet been attached to these initiatives.