LARGO — Feeling unappreciated by Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) officials, teachers throughout Prince George’s County gathered in various locations around the county to protest the lack of pay that they face, among other issues, on May 8.
“PGCPS has continued to undervalue teacher contributions to the public school system in Prince George’s County, so we are showing them that we will no longer stand for it and launching the first-ever Teacher Un-appreciation Day,” said Prince George’s County Educators Association (PGCEA) President Theresa Mitchell Dudley.
On May 8, the nation celebrated Teacher Appreciation Day recognizing the work that teachers do. However, feeling as though they go back to being unappreciated and undervalued, as well as underpaid, every other day of the year, the PGCEA organized Teacher Un-Appreciation Day to shed light on the lack of investment in public schools.
“Our children deserve to have the best teachers retained in our county. The school district loses 1,200-to-1,500 educators each year but continues to be unwilling to invest in the retention of qualified, well-trained educators,” Dudley said.
Teachers held multiple protests around the county throughout the day at Laurel High School, Friendly High School, High Point High School, Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School and at the intersection of Central Avenue and Enterprise Road near Perrywood Elementary School and Kingsford Elementary School.
“If you love us and really appreciate us as teachers, bring us up on steps as the other jurisdictions do,” said Annett Jones who teaches at Perrywood Elementary School and is on the PGCEA Board. “Montgomery County pays their teachers, that’s why they leave Prince George’s County, and they go to Montgomery. Anne Arundel is the same thing and Howard County. The only jurisdiction who is below steps is Prince George’s County…So this is gross, gross disrespect.”
The highest step a teacher can reach is 20 where their salary is capped. Michele Clarke, who teaches at Kenmoor Early Childhood Center, said she should also be on step 16 but is on step 12. Felix Lazaro, who has taught in the county for 11 years said he is four steps behind.
“The Board of Education for Maryland and for Prince George’s County are refusing proposals to at least make our steps,” said Twinda Harvey who teaches kindergarten at Perrywood Elementary School.
“Teachers with bachelors and a masters degree make about $85,000 a year per school year for their teaching, and I make about $61,000 in P.G. County,” Harvey said. “And I think that’s horrible, and I did just as much education as they did, I have student loan payments just like they do that I can’t afford to make.”
According to Clarke and Yvonne Baicich, who teaches at Kingsford Elementary School, PGCPS has $175 million in their rainy day fund, more than any other county in the state.
“Why do we have $175 million and they say they can’t fund the steps?” Baicich said. “That’s money from previous years not used.”
According to the PGCEA, the adopted FY 19 operating budgets for each school system in the state shows that PGCPS spends the second least of any county on instructional salaries. Compared to the state average of 37.5 percent of the budget, PGCPS spends 34.6 percent of its budget on instructional salaries. The only county which spends less in Somerset County at 34 percent.
However, PGCPS spends one of the highest amounts of money on administrative spending. The state average is 2.8 percent, but PGCPS spends the fourth highest amount at 3.5 percent of the budget on administrative expenditures.
The bottom line is, teachers deserve better pay, said Board of Education Member Raaheela Ahmed (District 5) who submitted a proposal to the Board of Education that week that looks at restoring teacher pay.
“Our educators have been behind in step increases for years,” she said. “Some work second jobs to make ends meet, in between late evening grading sessions and sponsoring student extracurricular activities. That’s just not right.”
In addition to fair compensation, there were a few other issues the teachers were protesting, such as smaller class sizes.
“Having 30 second-graders walk into the room, that’s insane,” said Baicich, who teachers physical education “There are so many discipline issues, or behavior issues, I can’t deal with that and teach a class…class size has been shown over and over that when you lower the class size, you improve success of the kids.”
Research has proven that children learn better in classrooms that are not overcrowded and when there are not too many students in a class, Baicich said.
The teachers were also asking for a sensible workload, less testing, a healthy and safe learning environment, fair evaluation, expansion of restorative practices so that suspension rates can be lowered and professional autonomy.
Clarke said she used to teach in Howard County, which is known for having an up to par school system. While she was paid more there, there was not the same level of gratitude among the students and parents. The appreciation she feels from the students and parents in PGCPS is what makes her want to stay.
“That’s why I do what I do. It’s for this kids,” Clarke said. “I would like to live comfortably and not have to struggle at the same time…that’s what brings me back year after year. If you truly love what you’re doing as a teacher and you truly feel like this is your purpose, you’ll keep coming back because of that.”
“There are nearly 6,000 educators who are behind on pay scale due to lost steps over the years that PGCPS has consistently underfunded our classrooms. If they appreciate educators, don’t say it on one day or one week, show it year around by making the investment,” Dudley said.