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Teachers angered at board's charge of absenteeism

June 03, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

A group of Washington County teachers attended the Washington County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to denounce school board officials' claims that teacher absenteeism is a problem.

One teacher who is on the Washington County Teacher Association's contract negotiating team accused school board officials of negotiating in bad faith by giving information to the press about absenteeism rates.

"Where did this article come from. That's the question. We believe it came from you and your representatives," Austin Gisriel, a member of the WCTA negotiating committee, told the board.

Gisriel accused the school board of trying to improve its bargaining position by giving "misinformation" to the press and trying to sway public opinion.

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He said the school board in its first offer to the WCTA tried to do away with all personal leave, and accused the board of showing "a total disdain and utter contempt for its employees."

"We were operating under an agreement that there would only be joint communication with the press. I was asked to inform you tonight that there are no ground rules to be followed in this next round of negotiations."

Teachers said they are working under a one-year contract that expires this summer. They said negotiations with school board officials have been going on since January.

Teacher Tina Angle said teachers in her school were upset when they read a newspaper story in Tuesday's Herald-Mail that quoted school board officials and Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. as saying absentee rates are high, and that schools are having trouble finding enough substitutes to replace them.

Angle said the teachers were particularly upset by the fact school officials said the highest absentee rate this year was on April 30, when 151 teachers, or 12.5 percent of the county teaching staff, were not in school.

"On that day about 100 of those teachers were in Greenbelt at a reading conference," she said. "Those teachers went at the request of elementary supervisors. The teachers put in the request for substitutes way ahead of time.

"The way the system works, the principal calls a person at the Board of Education, and that person is supposed to get a substitute. We have been told there are 451 substitutes on the board's list, so that shouldn't pose a problem," she said.

Teachers said the problem is with the board, not with them. They said the school board waits until the last minute to call substitutes to fill in for teachers who are out for things such as education conferences.

Deborah Zacher, treasurer of the WCTA, said when teachers go to workshops or professional conferences, those absences must be approved by their supervisors. She said the school board sometimes fails to take into account the number of approved absences on a given day, and must scramble to find substitutes.

School board members did not comment on the teachers' statements. Bartlett said he did not call the press and did not know who did.

Contacted at home after the meeting, Bartlett said he didn't think it was true that 100 teachers attended the reading conference. He said it was his understanding 62 teachers attended the conference.

"Let me be clear," he said. "I haven't said anything about teachers, and I haven't pointed my finger at them. I have said that there is a problem that has to be addressed, but I don't know enough about the categories or the figures to comment on them."

Asked if the problem that needed to be addressed was teacher absenteeism, Bartlett replied "yes."

Bartlett indicated he wasn't pleased with some of the comments made by teachers at the meeting.

"I think what some of the teachers said tonight was not good for educators, not good for teachers, and not good for us."

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