Anne Arundel County officials expect dozens of educators to request transfers out of schools considered to be in low-income or troubled areas after the system eliminated a stipend for teachers in those schools.

Teachers working in the county's 28 “challenge” schools have until Wednesday to submit a request for the opt-out program. More than 40 have applied thus far, according to the county teachers' union.

The challenge designation can be placed on schools by the county superintendent based on factors such as a high number of students on free and reduced-price meals, high teacher turnover, low test scores and a higher-than-average population of minority students.

Teachers in those schools previously were eligible for an extra $2,000 stipend, but last year the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County and the county school board agreed to cut the stipend to pay for an across-the-board 2 percent raise for all county teachers.

The union and school board also agreed to implement the opt-out program. School officials say it's only fair to let the teachers — who had expected the stipend — to leave for other schools.

School board president Stacy Korbelak said giving teachers an option to leave is the “equitable thing to do.”

But others say the program encourages teachers to leave struggling schools, causing more turnover in the schools most in need of stability.

Rebecca McHugh, a teacher at Meade High School — one of the challenge schools — said she won't be seeking to transfer, and finds the option offensive.

“It's a shame; rather than pay us what we deserve ... they're giving teachers the option to abandon the most needy kids,” McHugh said.

She said the decision to end the stipend program “speaks to how much they value these kids in low-income areas.”

In 2004, when the stipend was first issued, 13 schools were on the list. Last year 28 schools had the “challenge” designation.

School officials say the stipend did not work to reduce teacher turnover at those schools.

For example, last year Annapolis and Meade high schools, both challenge schools, experienced 17 percent and 19 percent turnover rates, respectively.

The countywide average was 11 percent.

Sebastian Serrano, an Annapolis High School teacher, said he wants to stay at the school where he feels he can do the most good. Still, he knows his many of his colleagues must balance obligations to their personal life with those to the school.

“Would you want a teacher who doesn't fully want to be here, forced to be here?” he said.

Dennis Sullivan, a teacher at North County High School, said most teachers at challenge schools take the job to help underprivileged students.

“Everyone was a little dumbstruck when we saw that in our mailbox,” he said of the announcement of the opt-out program.

“We teach here because we love the community,” he said. “The money was just recognition for our hard work.”