After a tense conflict between Montgomery County Public Schools and the county teachers union about a last-minute incentive encouraging dual-certified teachers to move from their general education assignments to special education programs, only one teacher accepted the transfer opportunity, according to a district spokesman.
In late August, on the Friday before teachers reported for a week of preservice leading up to the start of the 2022-23 school year, MCPS sent an email to all teachers asking those who are dual-certified in special education but assigned to a general education classroom to consider volunteering for a transfer to special education. Those who did so and were chosen for the switch would receive $5,000, the school district said.
The district in that message also said the teachers union, the Montgomery County Education Association, had agreed to the deal, a claim the union refuted later that day.
The union said there was a tentative agreement that it had not ratified, and had, in fact, voted the same day to reject because it “lacks a binding commitment from MCPS for equitable treatment for current special educators.”
The debate led to another several days of negotiating before an agreement was ultimately reached, which included the same incentive for those willing to transfer, but also included extra pay for current special education teachers who take on additional duties.
In a message at the time, MCEA called the agreement “a Band-Aid solution.”
On Tuesday, MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said 52 teachers “expressed interest” in the opportunity, but 37 of those were deemed ineligible. Of the 37 who were ineligible, 27 were already teaching in a special education program and 10 were not certified in special education, Cram said. Four others taught general assignment classes that are generally difficult to hire for, such as elementary immersion programs, science and math.
MCPS offered transfer assignments to 11 teachers. Only one accepted.
Cram said the outcome is “unfortunate” and said the last-minute timing as well as the conflict with the union “had an impact.” The debate with MCEA, specifically, might have “created some concern” among members about the offer, Cram said.
MCEA President Jennifer Martin said that most members felt the turnaround time was too fast and that the $5,000 incentive offered was not enough.
“If there had been enough time for people to make a switch … that might have been a great help,” Martin said.
As of Tuesday morning there were 165 openings for full-time teachers across the district, 77 (47%) of which were for special education teachers.
Previously, MCPS had said it may consider hiring contractors to temporarily fill the special education vacancies, but Cram said Tuesday that’s unlikely because there are so few contractors available for the work.
Instead, the district plans to continue to lean on long-term substitutes who have the proper certification and experience, and to continue efforts to hire full-time staff members. MCPS is also attempting to implement “flexible scheduling” with its special educators to allow them to work with more students throughout the week.
Cram said last month that there will not be involuntary transfers — meaning teachers will not be involuntarily reassigned to different schools if there are not enough volunteers to meet the district’s special education teaching needs.