Why Teachers Took Action

I am writing this letter to clear up the confusion generated in Calvert County over the decision of teachers in the Calvert County public school system to take a "work-to- rule" action. Our teachers union, Calvert Education Association (CEA), has been in contract negotiations with the superintendent and the Board of Education since last fall. Our current contract expired at the end of this June. For approximately the last nine months we have tried in good faith to settle a contract with the school system. We have been rebuffed at every turn in trying to make this happen.

We started negotiations with approximately 23 items that needed to be settled. We finally whittled that list down to three remaining items. Those items are salary, teacher representation (legal rights) and elementary teacher planning time. We attempted to negotiate the three items for approximately a week when Superintendent [J. Kenneth] Horsmon decided not to budge on any of the items and declared an impasse in negotiations. We never wanted an impasse!

Due to the fact that Dr. Horsmon and the BOE refuse to negotiate and have called for mediation/arbitration, both sides will be forced to spend thousands of dollars on this process. We asked on two occasions to go through a free Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). The process would be neutral and would cost both sides nothing. The superintendent and the BOE refused on both occasions. They claim that state law doesn't allow this, but that isn't true. If both sides agree to free mediation that is the process that can be used. When Calvert County schoolchildren are being forced to spend their own money to play sports, does this sound like an intelligent fiscal policy?

Our salary demands are fairly modest. We would like cost of living allowances that keep up with or are near the rate of inflation. The BOE has offered us a 1 percent pay raise for fiscal 2005. In a county in which the average price of a home is now over $300,000 and there are few affordable rental properties for teachers to live in, we consider this offer an insult.

Probably more important to our membership, though, is teacher representation. Our union, along with the union for educational support staff (CAESS), is asking for language in our respective contracts that is referred to as "Weingarten language." This is language that the administrators and supervisors union (CASA) already has in its contract. This language allows a person legal representation at the start of any questioning, hearing or investigative procedures that might negatively impact the employee. Our rationale for asking for this language is that CASA has it, and it creates a "super class" of individuals in the system if the other two bargaining units don't have it. The superintendent and BOE have stated that our groups don't need it, because we don't have as much responsibility as members [of the other groups] have. In other words, they believe that the two groups of people in this county that are responsible for Calvert County schoolchildren on a daily basis -- teachers and support professionals -- aren't as important to your children as they are.

They also feel that elementary school teachers in the county shouldn't have equitable planning time with their counterparts in middle school and high school. Currently, elementary teachers aren't guaranteed a daily planning period, and the principal has the right to use 40 minutes of their planning each month for administrative use. With the demands of the No Child Left Behind law, we believe elementary teachers deserve this equity.

Two of these three items would have little to no fiscal impact on the BOE. Why won't it give up these two items? We believe that it is continuing to perpetuate what amounts to oligarchic control over two groups of people that it considers to be inferior. Why? Is this the way to treat people in a profession that is supposed to have the best interests of children in mind?

Finally, Dr. Horsmon and the BOE claim that they are worried about the effects work-to-rule will have on the children of Calvert County. Dr. Horsmon and the lay BOE have asked our county commissioners for a significantly lesser percentage of money for education in the last three fiscal years. They claim these are false claims. They twist words and say they've asked for more money in the budget. They have asked for more money, but every year it's a lesser percentage [of overall county spending] than the year before. The percentage of money for education in the county budget has dropped 4.9 percent in the last three fiscal years.

Does this sound like the work of people that are concerned about the children of Calvert County? We don't think so. Calvert County ranked 15th among 23 school districts in the state last year in per-pupil spending. We are over $700 per pupil below the state average in spending. Why aren't Dr. Horsmon and the BOE asking for the type of money that Calvert County's children deserve?

One reason is that they've taken Thornton Commission funding from the state, which was meant as a supplement to county budgets to improve education in the state, and they've used it in order to ask for less money from our county commissioners, thus creating the illusion of fiscal responsibility.

We believe it's time to hold the superintendent and the lay Board of Education responsible for doing what's right for children in this county. Our teachers have the best interest of children in mind. It practically kills them when we are forced to take a job action like this. Remember, we are still working our contracted hours. We aren't doing anything illegal.

We need the help of the citizens in this county to hold Dr. Horsmon and the lay Board of Education responsible for properly funding education. Please contact those people and ask why they don't think your children are worth spending enough money on to at least bring us up to the state average in per-pupil spending.

Shannon M. Fitch

President, Calvert Education Association

Prince Frederick

Schools Chief Responds

Editor's note: The following statement was issued by Calvert County Superintendent J. Kenneth Horsmon in response to the decision by the teacher and support staff bargaining units to begin a work-to-rule job action.

As of Sept. 10, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick declared an impasse in negotiations between the Calvert County public school system and the Calvert Association of Educational Support Staff. On July 8, Dr. Grasmick had declared an impasse with the Calvert Education Association. Dr. J. Kenneth Horsmon, superintendent of schools, declared his regret that the negotiations have reached this point.

The process prescribed for impasse in state law and both local negotiated agreements calls for a panel of three members comprised of two panelists chosen by the respective parties and one mediator/arbitrator selected from the American Association of Arbitrators by those two panelists. The panel of three will follow a course of action called for in the legislation, namely to resolve the differences of the parties, and if no resolution is reached, the panel must make a written recommendation to the Board of Education within 30 days following the joint mediation session. This recommendation of the arbitrator is not binding on the local board. The panelists for both parties have been named . . . .

At this time, it is our understanding that both organizations have decided to initiate a job action, specifically, work-to-rule. Regretfully, those schools who have not yet held their open houses may be impacted by this initiative. School principals will be communicating directly with parents to clarify the program for open house at each site. Dr. Horsmon voiced his concern that students will bear the impact of this decision.

Office of the Superintendent

Calvert Public Schools

Prince Frederick

Machines: A 'Yes' Vote

The Aug. 8 story "For Some, Proof Is in Paper Vote Receipt" and the Sept. 5 letter to the editor "Voting Paper Trail Needed" -- all in the Southern Maryland Extra section of The Washington Post. How do so many people who don't know what they are talking about get so much space in your paper?

I will try to answer the Frank L. Fox letter of Sept. 5 point by point. In the first paragraph he quotes John Hopkins professor Avi Rubin, as do just about all articles against the Diebold machines. In only one article a long time ago it was noted that professor Rubin was on the board of a competing company that manufactured voting machines and thus had a conflict of interest. His answer at the time was that he forgot that he was on the board of a competing company.

The others who concluded that the Diebold machines could be compromised would, I guess, include the three or four computer hackers that the state hired, locked them in a room and asked them to try to hack into the unit. One of the hackers had a set of lock pins, and in 10 minutes he managed to get the lock open and get into the machine and compromise it. This could not happen in a voting precinct with all the voting judges watching. If someone did do this, we would know the unit had been compromised.

Mr. Fox does not state what type of computer machines were used in Texas where his friend almost lost an election because of computer voting machines, nor does he state what precautions were taken by the Board of Elections. I will personally guarantee this could not happen in Charles County or any other county in Maryland that follows the state procedure prior to and after the election.

In Charles County each and every machine is tested for logic and accuracy with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans present. After the test, each unit has a numbered security tape placed over the locks, the unit lid is closed, and a numbered seal locks the unit closed. If Mr. Fox is truly interested, he can call the Board of Elections, and I am sure he will be allowed to observe this phase.

The units are placed on trucks and delivered to their respective precincts. On Election Day the two chief judges, one a Democrat and the other Republican at each precinct, first check the numbered seals on the machines to be sure they have not been tampered with. The unit is then opened, and the numbered security tape on the locks is checked by number and to make sure it has not been tampered with. The tape is removed so the units can be turned on, and a zero tape is run to show that no votes have been cast prior to the election. Then a new numbered security tape is placed on the locks.

After the election the two chief judges remove the black box, and it is delivered to the Board of Elections by a Democrat and a Republican, and the unofficial results of the election are announced. Meanwhile, back at the precinct, the chief judges run the results off each unit, and the results are posted at the precinct.

For further security during the election, each voter is given a VAC (voter authority card) by the book judges. The voter gives this card to a machine judge, who then gives the voter a plastic card to insert in the voting machine. The voter authority card is placed in a bag attached to the unit. At the end of the day, the number of votes registered on the machine must match the number of VAC cards in the bag on that unit. After the election, the machines are returned to the Board of Elections and each unit is again checked for logic and accuracy. The plastic card given to the voter will allow you to vote one time only and then has to be reprogrammed by the machine judge for the next voter. These plastic cards will only work in the precinct they are programmed for.

Is it any wonder that Judge Joseph P. Manck ruled in favor of the state and against these people that insist on a paper trail? Would they like to go back to the days of all paper ballots and the possibility of counting votes for a month or more?

The new units are the most accurate voting machine this state or any state has ever had. The oldest voting machine, the big bulky lever machines invented in 1895 and still in use in many states and used in Maryland for many years, left no paper trail. Did you ever hear anyone ask for a paper trail when these units were used?

When you vote on the new Diebold unit, you can change your vote anytime while you are at the machine, and you cannot over-vote when you are finished. Prior to casting your vote, the unit shows you who you voted for and in red if you failed to cast a ballot in one of the races. If you made a mistake, you can touch that particular place and the unit will go back and enable you to change your vote. When finished, you touch the cast ballot part on the screen and your vote is registered.

In his last paragraph, Mr. Fox asks you to insist on a paper ballot. These are counted with a scanning device and are accurate if you mark them in the right place and if you use the pencil supplied by the county. If you use your own pencil, it may or may not read it correctly.

After the Florida fiasco, I firmly believe that anyone who knows and has experience in the voting process and wants a paper trail, does so so they can change the results of an election in their favor. In a recount the board of elections is supposed to try to determine the intent of the voter. Was that person counting ballots in Florida shown on TV holding a ballot up to the light bulb trying to determine the voter's intent?

It seems odd to me that 75 to 100 people can demonstrate to get the state to spend millions of dollars to add printers to voting machines that hundreds of thousands of voters are happy with. I look forward to you assigning a reporter to the election and get the true story of the voters' general approval of these units.

Francis J. Mason

President, Board of Elections of Charles County


Flip-Flop Since '92

When Bill Clinton ran against President George H.W. Bush in the '92 presidential election, the subject of military service became an issue. Some tried to contrast the service of President Bush, a naval aviator in World War II who was shot down on a mission, with Bill Clinton's lack of military service. But we discovered that military service made no difference, that such service in the long past war or any war for that matter, made a candidate no better qualified for the presidency. This was borne out when Bill Clinton was elected over President Bush and then reelected over Sen. Bob Dole, another WWII veteran who had lost the use of his right arm in that service.

Fast-forward to the presidential elections of 2004. John F. Kerry, with 19 years as a U.S. senator and a term as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts to his credit, has chosen the four months he served in Vietnam as the centerpiece of his bid for presidency. At the same time, he declares President Bush AWOL because he served only in the National Guard.

To quote one of the most famous military analysts of all time, Pvt. Gomer Pyle: "Shazam! Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!" Now military service is all that counts. What has changed since 1992? Answer: only the political party of the candidate.

It's not John Kerry who is flip-flopping. It's the whole Democratic Party.

James D. Gray

Charlotte Hall

Bush Disregards Freedoms

The overall theme of President Bush's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention was freedom. He mentioned freedom and liberty more than 30 times, not only the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq from their terrorist regimes, but "the story of America . . . expanding liberty . . . to reach further and include more," even here at home. He said the "government should help people improve their lives, not try to run their lives" by seeing that our "citizens are equipped, prepared, and thus truly free, to make [their] own choices and pursue [their] own dreams." He said the government will provide "a path to greater opportunity, more freedom and more control over your own life" and will be "encouraging liberty at home."

Those sentiments are certainly in keeping with the Republican philosophy that a smaller government doing only its constitutionally mandated duties is preferable to a bigger government interfering in the personal and private lives and choices of its citizens.

So it came as an unpleasant surprise when the president's speech, counter to its theme, specified plans to deny some American citizens their right to make their own choices and pursue their own dreams. President Bush said he would "support the protection of marriage against activist judges" and "will continue to appoint federal judges who know the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law." He was obviously referring to same-sex couples who wish their family commitment to be legally recognized, people who are not interfering with anyone else's rights or lifestyle choice.

President Bush's statement shows not only a lack of respect for the personal freedoms of American citizens and the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment, but also a willingness to heed the urgings of misguided groups. Because the wishes of same-sex couples to have their family commitment recognized do not threaten marriage in any way, it does not need "protecting." One of the responsibilities of a judge is to interpret the law as it applies to a specific situation. Calling a judge an "activist" because his or her opinion differs from that of others shows contempt for the judiciary branch of the government.

The president of the United States has said that he supports the taking of personal freedoms from American citizens, based upon religious doctrine, and that he has nominated, and will deliberately continue to nominate judges based upon their opinion about a particular issue rather than their credentials. These actions show his disregard for the Constitution and his oath of office. . . .

The public needs to consider this aspect of President Bush before it votes in November.

Brice Kirk

La Plata