Hundreds of Baltimore County teachers and their supporters rallied Tuesday night to push the school board to ask County Executive Johnny Olszewski to find the money for teacher pay raises.
They also want smaller classrooms and schools that are not in disrepair. WYPR’s John Lee was there and talked about what happened with Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner.
Sterner: John, what did the teachers ask the board to do?
Lee: They want the board to stand by Interim School Superintendent Verletta White’s first proposed budget, which would increase county funding by more than 11 percent and includes a pay raise. Two weeks ago, County Executive Olszewski gave the board something of a reality check about the coming year’s county budget, which is already more than $80 million dollars in the red. So White drew up a second proposed budget at the request of the school board chair and vice chair. That budget has a less than one percent increase and no teacher pay raise. But White has made it clear she stands by her first budget with the 11 percent increase.
During the rally outside the board office just before Tuesday night’s meeting, teachers and their supporters, many of them wearing red shirts, called on the board to stand by White.
And it wan’t just about pay. Allie Carter, a Chorus teacher at Dundalk Middle School, said she asked her students what they would want with more funding.
Carter: “They didn’t ask for more field trips, or limousines instead of buses or pizza for lunch every day, which surprised me. They said they want better plumbing. They did. It was like unanimously.”
Lee: Carter said that was telling and troubling, asking how does the school system get to the next level of learning when the toilets don’t work.
Many of the people at the rally were carrying signs, saying things like “Schools Just Wanna Have Funds,” “Support Public Education for Our Children,” and “Our Kids are the Future.”
Once the rally was over, they moved inside, and packed the board room, as well as the hallway and other rooms nearby.
Sterner: Did they then carry their message to the board?
Lee: They did, and it boils down to this. They want the school board to pass the larger budget, drop it on Olszewski’s desk, and pretty much dare him to cut it.
Ed Vait was one of them. He said members of the board, most of whom were elected, need to go back to their districts and sell the larger budget.
Vait: “You’re not going to sit here and think that county council will take care of you or the county executive is going to take care of you. These guys are going to take care of you. And I think you need to remember that.”
Others, like Ridgely Middle School PTA President Yara Cheikh said it was time for the county to raise taxes for education, and that the school board should lead the charge.
Cheikh: “Be a leader. And for you to be a leader means to make the case to our county council and our leadership. Raise taxes to give our teachers and students what they need.”
And Nathan, here is where I remind everyone that when Olszewski was running for county executive last year, he promised pay raises for teachers, as well as smaller class sizes and more money for school construction. And he did not rule out tax increases, although he did say they should be a last resort.
Sterner: So what happens now?
Lee: There will be a public hearing on the budget next week. Then the school board is scheduled to vote on it February 19 and send it to Olszewski. Board chairwoman Kathleen Causey said it’s not enough to ask for the robust funding they need. The board also needs to be transparent and show every dollar is being spent properly. And at least a couple of board members are questioning why the budget has to be cut on the backs of teachers. That perhaps savings can be found elsewhere.