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After five days of tense back-and-forth, Montgomery County Public Schools and the county teachers union have reached an agreement to provide incentives for special education teachers. 

Under the agreement, dual-certified teachers who are currently assigned to a general education class but volunteer and are chosen to be reassigned to a special education program will receive a $5,000 “incentive,” according to a press release from the district. 

The request comes as MCPS struggles to fill special education teaching vacancies across the district. On Tuesday, MCPS reported about 187 vacant full-time teaching positions across the county. There are about 103 full- and part-time special education vacancies, according to MCPS.

The same incentive was first announced by MCPS on Friday, the last business day before teachers reported for preservice week beginning Monday, in which they prepare for students’ return on Aug. 29. The district said at the time that the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) had agreed to the plan. MCEA said in a statement that night, however, that it had not formally adopted the tentative agreement and had, instead, voted to deny it at a meeting that day. The union did not want to agree to an incentive only for teachers who are transferred without providing “parity” for current special educators, MCEA President Jennifer Martin said at the time. 

MCPS and MCEA spent the weekend and early part of the week negotiating to reach Wednesday’s agreement. The main difference is that the new agreement includes extra pay each quarter for special education teachers who “become responsible for additional students as a case manager” for students’ individualized education programs (IEP). 

Depending on the number of additional students the teacher is responsible for, the incentive pay could be as much as $4,000 per year. The compensation range, according to MCPS, is: 

  • $350 for one to three students 
  • $675 for four to six students 
  • $1,000 for more than six students. 

In its press release Wednesday, MCPS said more than 40 dual-certified special education teachers had volunteered to be transferred, and district leaders were determining whether “those transfer requests fit within the parameters of the agreement.”

In Friday’s email to teachers, MCPS wrote that it is “less likely” that teachers who work in certain positions — such as those for elementary immersion, science and math — will be chosen for transfer. 

A district spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. 

In a message to union members Wednesday afternoon, MCEA said that the “agreement leaves many needs unmet” and “much work lies before us” but it “represents some progress for our members as we struggle to cope with a lack of staffing, particularly in special education.” 

The message said “MCPS refused to fully address the problems special educators are facing, and instead was only willing to agree to a Band-Aid solution.” The union “decided strategically to secure the small advancements in this agreement,” the message said. 

The MCEA message said the deadline for dual-certified teachers to request a transfer to a new building was 5 p.m. Wednesday. A request to transfer within the same school is 5 p.m. Friday, according to MCEA. The union and MCPS plan to meet in October to “evaluate the impact” of the agreement and “discuss staff retention.” 

The Friday MCPS email said the district will prioritize filling special education teaching vacancies at the volunteer’s school first. So, if possible, teachers who volunteer would remain at their assigned schools. 

If that’s not possible, MCPS will consider “geographic proximity” to a teacher’s current assignment “to minimize disruption,” the message said. MCPS also plans to prioritize filling vacancies at high-needs schools and those with the largest numbers of vacancies. The message does not say which schools those are. 

An MCPS spokesman said Friday 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.