- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2004

BALTIMORE — Schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland delayed classes for two hours yesterday because more than 600 teachers called in sick the morning after they rejected a 3.5 percent pay cut proposed by the city.

Officials scrambled to fill the gaps, shifting the teachers who showed up for work and sending the school system’s administrative workers to help teach.

“I would not characterize it as a normal instructional day,” said Vanessa Pyatt, Baltimore city public schools spokeswoman. She also said some classes were combined.

She said 620 of the city’s 6,100 teachers called in sick.

Teachers voted Thursday 3,824 to 1,402 to reject what city officials called a “pay deferral” because of the promise it would be repaid next year. During the vote, teachers received fliers urging them not to report to work yesterday, and the system received more than 300 calls by Thursday evening.

Officials at the Baltimore Teachers Union said they weren’t supporting a sick-out and weren’t responsible for the fliers. The union has more than 8,000 members, according to the group’s Web site.

The outcome of Thursday’s vote heightens a crisis that has been brewing since last summer, when officials reported the school deficit had grown to $58 million, far more than had been expected.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said yesterday he was planning to discuss the situation with state schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, Mrs. Copeland and other city school leaders later in the day.

Citing “terrible” student performance and school conditions, high dropout and violence rates and the $58 million deficit, the governor asked: “What happened to all the dollars that the state has pumped in over the years? What kind of performance do we have a right to expect?”

Mrs. Copeland first asked teachers to choose between a 7 percent pay cut for the rest of the year or an eight-day furlough to help the system recoup $16 million or face 1,200 layoffs.

Teachers rejected both options last week, leading Mayor Martin O’Malley to offer to lend the city school system $8 million to cut in half the proposed salary cut.

Faced with Thursday’s second rejection, Mrs. Copeland said she must either proceed with the layoffs or impose the salary deferral without union approval, even if that meant teachers took the system to court.

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