With less than a month until the first day of classes, Montgomery County Public Schools continues to recruit to fill open positions across the district, including for more than 400 support staff who are critical to operations such as bus and meal services.

As of Wednesday morning, MCPS listed 421 openings for jobs such as paraprofessionals, meal service workers, building services staff, security staff and bus drivers. MCPS spokesman Chris Cram said about 190 (45%) of the openings were for paraprofessionals, who often support students in special education programs or those who are English language learners. Forty-five of the openings were for bus drivers.

Recruiting people to fill the positions could prove particularly difficult, according to Pia Morrison, president of SEIU Local 500, the union that represents support staff.

She said many of the vacancies are for 10-month employees, who generally work fewer than 40 hours per week and are not eligible for holiday pay. As inflation strains families’ budgets and more jobs are available in the private sector, many employees have made the decision to leave MCPS, she said.

“I think there are options for people who previously may not have had the same amount of options because the labor market has moved in favor of people seeking jobs, rather than the employer who previously had more power in the labor market,” Morrison said. “So, if you can get a full-time job making the same hourly rate for 12 months of the year and really beat back the squeeze of that inflation, people are going to do it.”

The first day of classes is Aug. 29.

If the positions go unfilled, she said, it will affect the day-to-day operations of the school system. Some bus routes may go without service — similar to what happened several times throughout the last school year and over the summer — while meal services may be more difficult to operate and students who need one-on-one attention may not get it.

“All of those are going to suffer,” Morrison said. “They already suffered with the return to school, and they’re going to continue to suffer if the system can’t address this shortage.”

Morrison also said that some of the employees — like security staff and paraprofessionals — more often deal with students who may have behavioral problems, and some feel that they don’t know how to handle the situations. She recommended more robust training.

Cram said that such training is available for support staff already and that he encourages “any professional to reach out to admin and see what’s available.”

“I support Pia’s position on that because we all have to do so much more for children now,” Cram said. “It’s important that staff have the tools they need.”

Teacher vacancies

On Monday, MCPS reported 351 open full-time teaching positions. On Wednesday, that number had dropped to 270, Cram said.

When asked, MCPS did not provide a breakdown of open positions or resignations by school.

In recent weeks, the district has come under fire after initiating a fresh round of “involuntary transfers,” in which employees can be reassigned to address staffing shortages at other schools within the district.

Leaders of the county teachers union, the Montgomery County Education Association, said that the moves in July violated their contract, but MCPS disagreed.

During a July 26 school board meeting, MCPS Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the transfers were within the bounds of the contract because it allows for “two seasons of transfers generally beginning in March and ending in July.”

“We are still in the month of July,” she said at the time.
The union argued that the contract’s language says teachers tabbed for involuntary transfers will be notified by February.

Asked if the transfers were finished Cram said on Wednesday: “Should an important position need a teacher and … it can’t be filled by an external person,” additional transfers are “possible.”

But, he said, MCPS is “making every effort not to do that because we understand it is disruptive.”

“We’re in negotiations with our friends at MCEA to round out the rough edges of this whole process to make it more humane,” Cram said. “We know the school year is approaching and people need to be settled, ready and planning. (The transfers) have been necessary, and also fraught with difficulty for those affected.”

He pointed to an article in the contract that says: “When it becomes necessary for a unit member to transfer because of changes in enrollment or program, the Office of Human Resources and Development will give the transfer of the unit member priority in filling known vacancies.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com