The Baltimore Teachers Union is asking teachers to "work to rule" when classes start next week because negotiations on a new two-year contract have stalled over planning time for teachers, a union leader said yesterday.This is a perfect example of how parents and students cannot trust teachers' unions.
Contract talks have reached an impasse, said Marietta English, president of the teachers' chapter of the Baltimore Teachers Union. The union, which also represents paraprofessionals, plans to ask the Maryland State Department of Education to move negotiations to a fact-finding phase to resolve the issue.
Teachers and paraprofessionals will continue to work under the existing contractual agreement, English said yesterday. The union is asking teachers to perform only tasks dictated by the contract and to work only during the designated school day.
The union is committed to working with Andres Alonso, the new chief executive officer of Baltimore schools, English said, but "we think it is outrageous that teachers are being denied a new contract while newly hired teachers are being offered bonuses up to $7,000 to work in the Baltimore City public schools," she said.
Despite what many people think, I am not completely anti-union. I don't like unions and in particular public sector unions since they drive up the cost of government. But if a union sticks to doing what it is supposed to do, that is focus their efforts on work place conditions and protections, I generally will not oppose their actions.
However, the problem with public sector unions, like teachers' unions, is that they claim to have the interests of the public at heart but cannot reconcile their professed concern with the actions they take. Baltimore schools are set to open on Monday and now teachers are being told--don't do anything extra. Working to the rule at a time when extra effort is required, i.e. at the beginning of a school year, is a cheap shot and clearly does not have the best interests of students at heart.
The thing that really chafes me is that the impasse is over planning time--planning time. In a work day that is already an hour or so shorter than the rest of the world but France, and includes a 45 minute lunch break, further shortening the work day, the Baltimore teachers union is upset about planning time. Not having too many kids in the class, not pay, not benefits, not even the condition of classrooms (i.e. no heat or A/C) but planning time.
I don't know of any other job, unionized or otherwise, that even considers planning time a negotiable condition and the cause for a labor demonstration. The fact that heartens me is that I know many teachers will ignore the union and go about doing their jobs for our children the best they know how.
Here is the thing that chafes me about the school system:
A school system spokeswoman did not return calls for comment last night. English said the school system wants to use some of the planning time for staff development. The contract includes 10 staff development days.School systems routinely don't go on the offensive, ceding the public relations ground to the unions. The minute these talks broke down, the press officer for the school system should have been on the phone to the Sun and making the schools' case. They have such a wonderful case to make here.
By almost every measurement, Baltimore schools are in dismal condition. Teachers have within their power the ability to make the most immediate and long term changes and for my money, anything that helps them do their job better, whether voluntary or mandatory, is a good thing. Having ten days of staff development augmented by a couple more days is nothing. If it means teachers have to do a little planning outside the work day--so be it. The school system needs to improve and that means teachers too. The school board should be up front and public about it.
According to the Maryland State Report Card for 2007, Baltimore City Schools have 21.6 percent of teachers with Conditional certification and 47 percent of classes being taught by teachers who are not highly qualified according to NCLB standards. In contrast, statewide, only 7.8 percent of teachers in Maryland are working with conditional certification and 17.8 percent of classes don't' have a highly qualified teacher. Based on those figures alone, the Baltimore City School Board should be out there with guns blazing that their desire to have more development days is meant to close those gaps.
The galling fact is that eventually the school board is going to cave. The best that can be hoped for is a compromise of some sort.
The parents and students of Baltimore need better teachers and they certainly don't need lazy teachers. Working to rule is lazy and it is a cop out by the union. The public shouldn't take it and they should be public about this disapproval.