OK, Dallas…take a hint!
A worsening budget crisis in the Baltimore school system hit a new peak yesterday when 620 teachers called in sick to protest a plan to impose across-the-board pay cuts or massive layoffs.
As principals scrambled to cover the unexpected absences with the help of volunteers and support staff, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) said he would refuse to bail out the Baltimore system unless school officials come up with a clear plan for solving their fiscal woes.
The state’s superintendent of schools also launched an investigation into how the system accumulated its $58 million deficit, raising the possibility that former officials could be prosecuted or sued.
Meanwhile, Baltimore teachers who reported to work yesterday said the crisis is beginning to play out in the classrooms and schoolyards as students take notice of a first round of budget cuts and the larger debate over finances.
“It’s terrible. It affects everything,” said Eric Thomas, a communications teacher at Northwestern High School, where fires broke out last month after officials were forced to lay off several hall monitors.
Students “can sense the inner chaos, based on what’s happening in the building,” he said.
The sickout, involving nearly 10 percent of the system’s 6,800 teachers, came a day after members of a key city teachers union voted overwhelmingly to reject a plan in which they would have accepted 3.5 percent pay cuts to avoid laying off 1,200 employees. And it marked the latest chapter in the saga of the struggling 91,000-student school district.