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Plan To Require Office Space for Teachers Stalled

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A rule that would have made North Carolina the first state to require that all new schools contain office space for teachers was temporarily withdrawn last week after critics complained that it had been too hastily adopted and would add too much to construction costs.

The controversial provision was part of a facilities code adopted by the state board of education at its June meeting. Drafting the code was a requirement of a 10-year, $3.2-billion school-construction act passed by the legislature during its 1987 session.

Under the disputed rule, all schools built after July 1 would have been required to have at least 100 square feet of work space, a desk, and a storage area for every teacher.

After the proposal was made public, however, opposition surfaced among legislators and local officials, who cited its potential cost implications and complained of a lack of consultation.

Both the board chairman and the state superintendent of education agreed last week to delay implementation of the requirement until lawmakers and board members have had a chance to review it.

Meanwhile, teachers are hailing the provision as a "long overdue'' move toward professionalization.

"It's a step in the right direction,'' said Scott Treibitz, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers. "A lot of teachers don't even have access to a file cabinet or a desk.''

Glenn Keever, a spokesman for the North Carolina Association of Educators, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said that the union also supports the provision--so long as there is enough funding to pay for the extra spaces.

"We think the change, if it is required, would be a good one,'' he said. "But we don't want to see local units being forced into building offices and then cutting curriculum.''

State officials say that each office would cost about $7,200 to construct and that the proposal would increase construction costs for elementary schools by 4 percent and for high schools by 3 percent.

But supporters respond that the added costs would be offset by other benefits, both psychological and practical.

'Good Enough for the D.M.V.'

By giving each teacher a private work area, they argue, the provision would not only solve a pressing storage need in schools, but would also send a strong signal to the public that teachers are as important as other professionals.

"Have you ever heard of a college professor who does not have a private office?'' asked Samuel E. Bacharach, a professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University who has studied teachers' working conditions. "If it's good enough for the civil-service organizations, if it's good enough for the department of motor vehicles, then why not for teachers?''

A. Craig Phillips, the state superintendent, who serves as a member of the state board, said that he believed "every employee, particularly lead employees, needs to have additional space--even though it may be attached to a classroom.''

The superintendent and other knowledgeable observers said last week that despite the decision to delay implementation of the rule, they were optimistic that an agreement could be reached that would retain the work spaces but perhaps scale down their size.

'Grocery Cart' Issue

The North Carolina action reflects a growing national concern over teachers' working conditions. A recent study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching found that despite the gains of the reform movement, many teachers say they have less lounge and study space than they had five years ago. (See Education Week, May 25, 1988.)

The National Education Association is planning to conduct its own study of working conditions, and will look specifically at teacher work space and how it affects building costs, said Marilyn Rogers, a spokesman for the union.

Darrell Spencer, the assistant superintendent for school planning in North Carolina, said the teacher-office rule, if adopted, would ease a space and storage shortage there that has forced some teachers to carry their personal belongings and professional paraphernalia with them from class to class.

"We have heard many comments about teachers and their 'grocery carts','' he said. "We do not think that this is the right sort of thing for professionals.''

Code's Specifications

Under the North Carolina rule, new schools would have to include at least 125 square feet of office space for each K-3 teacher, and 100 square feet for every teacher in grades 4-12. If schools put more than one teacher work space in a room, the space requirement would be reduced by 20 percent.

Each teacher would have a desk, a filing cabinet, and storage space. One telephone would be available for every 10-12 teachers.

The board recommended--but did not require--that schools provide accoustical work-space dividers in situations where groups of teachers share an open area.

It also recommended that faculty restrooms have a full-length mirror and an area for grooming. In addition, each school should have one or more central rooms with office equipment for teacher use, according to the code.

In addition to its regulations on teacher work spaces, the code outlines standards for classroom size and for school grounds.

Mr. Spencer, who heads the office that approves all school-construction plans, said he envisioned elementary-school teachers having work spaces that were extensions of their classroom, with no more than four teachers in a room. Middle- and high-school teachers, he said, would probably share a room with up to four or five other teachers.

Teachers in grades K-3 are to have larger offices than those in grades 4-12, he said, so they can share their space with teaching assistants.

'Damn the Torpedoes'

According to political observers, the impetus for the provision was a 1987 report on the working conditions of North Carolina teachers by the Public School Forum of North Carolina, an influential private group that includes educators, business leaders, lawmakers, and several state-board members.

The report found that most teachers "have little or no access to telephones'' and that "some teachers didn't even have a classroom to call their own or a closet with a lock in which to store student records or personal belongings.''

Although few critics question the rule's intent, many say the board may have acted improperly when it simultaneously reviewed and adopted it at this month's meeting, then included it in the final version of its facilities code. An interim code, released last year, had made no mention of a teacher work space requirement.

Critics also maintain that the state board did not adequately consider the fiscal impact of the provision--and the entire facilities code--on school districts and counties, which spend approximately $3 on construction for every $1 the state contributes toward those costs.

"For a county that is in the midst of a building program, [the new rule] can raise the cost,'' said Edmund P. Regan, the assistant director of the North Carolina County Commissioners Association. "It was sort of 'damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,''' he said of the board's adoption procedure.

Legislative leaders were also upset because they did not have a chance to review either the new provision or the final code. Late last week, a bill was introduced in the state Senate that would create a 16-member study commission, consisting of lawmakers, educators, county officials, and an architect, to look at the entire facilities code.

Howard H. Haworth, the board's chairman, and Mr. Phillips have told the lawmakers that they will delay implementing the teacher work space provision, pending a review by the board and the Assembly's joint governmental-operations committee.

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