Battle in Anne Arundel Co. continues over special education, staff shortages and contractors

In the midst of a nationwide teacher shortage, Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland and its teachers’ union are at odds on how to fill mandated special education roles and how contractors should be paid.

As of last week, AACPS was roughly 385 teachers short of normal staffing levels, according to the Capital Gazette.

On Friday, Nicole Disney-Bates, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, released a statement accusing Anne Arundel County Public Schools of violating its collective bargaining agreement with the union by hiring third-party contractors outside of the union to fill special education and ESOL positions in the system.

In addition, Disney-Bates stated many third-party contractors were receiving higher salaries than instructors within the union.

“We do not have an educator shortage; we have a shortage of people willing to be disrespected by their own school system,” Disney-Bates said. “AACPS is spending huge sums of money to pay contractors more than their own dedicated employees who are invested in our communities, and dedicated to the students and families that they serve.”

At a rally held in downtown Annapolis on Monday, leaders from TAAAC claimed outside contractors filling special education roles were receiving roughly double the salaries of current staff.

“The teachers are hurt. They feel like this is another thing that is disrespectful to them,” Disney-Bates said at the rally. “It’s hard for them to picture that a colleague could be making $100,000 and they’re making $48,000.”

In a joint news release on Monday, Board of Education President Joanna Tobin and Superintendent of Schools Mark T. Bedell responded to TAAAC, claiming the teachers’ union was being irresponsible in its rhetoric during the current teacher shortage and that filling special educator roles was required by law, union or not.

“It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the leadership of the TAAAC has chosen a course of political posturing and erroneous rhetoric over the interests of some of the most vulnerable in our school system, our special education students,” the statement read.

In regard to higher salaries for contractors, Tobin and Bedell claimed it was because contractors do not receive the same benefits package union members do.

“It is critical to understand that contract employees receive no AACPS or State benefits (i.e., robust health, dental, or vision care; sick or vacation time; and state retirement, life insurance, tenure, job security, seniority, ETC.). Such benefits can add as much as 37% to an AACPS employee’s compensation package.”

The AACPS leaders went on to say that, because attending to special needs students is required by federal and state law, the county must fill those instruction roles, regardless of union status.

“The use of contractors to secure such services is not a new practice, and AACPS refuses to tell families of special needs students that we will be unable to provide appropriate services due to staffing issues when contracted services are and have been a viable option,” the statement said.

At Monday’s rally, Disney-Bates said an easy solution to the conflict would be for any contracted workers to automatically become part of the union, allowing equity for all educators at county schools.

“The request is that they join our bargaining unit,” Disney-Bates said.

Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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