Three weeks before the start of the school year, school leaders in Montgomery County, Maryland, say they’re still looking to fill hundreds of vacant positions, from full-time teachers to support workers and bus drivers.
But even with the vacancies, MCPS Schools CEO Monifa McKnight said the school system is 98% staffed and “inching closer to 100% every single day,” and she pledged that every classroom would have a teacher come the start of the school year Aug. 29.
“We’re committed to having a qualified adult in every classroom with our students — or a substitute teacher if we cannot field the position on day one,” McKnight said during a media briefing Monday to discuss efforts to recruit and fill open positions.
By the numbers
As of this week, there are 246 full-time teacher openings, with 89 teacher candidates in the approval process who are likely to be hired, McKnight said. That leaves 157 more teacher positions still left to fill, as well as 59 open part-time teaching positions.
About two and a half weeks ago, the number of open position was 396, McKnight said, adding that the school system is reducing the number of open positions every day.
There are also 450 open support service positions, which includes para-educators, office workers and building services staff. There are currently 83 candidates in the queue, leaving 367 positions still left to fill.
There are 50 openings for bus drivers, with 34 candidates in the process, leaving 16 spots left to fill. Last year at this time, there were 100 total bus driver vacancies, McKnight said.
Overall, the top area of need is special education teachers, followed by elementary school teachers and school psychologists, said Travis Wiebe, director of human capital management for MCPS.
The school system is still seeking to hire about 30 school psychologists, officials told WTOP.
McKnight pitched the school system as a great place to work, pointing to an average starting teacher salary of $62,000 and professional development opportunities for all staff members.
MCPS employs more than 24,500 employees, making it one of the largest employers in the state.
Monday’s briefing came amid a discussion about a national shortage of teachers and other school positions, more than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, as in previous years, we’ve had many positions to fill,” McKnight said. “However, this year, we’ve been faced with particularly a steep challenge of seeking more positions to fill in a very, very competitive environment.”
While the school system is on a hiring blitz, hosting job fairs at Montgomery College and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, McKnight said the plans to staff classrooms for the first day of the school year will rely on the school system’s cadre of 3,500 substitute teachers, many of whom are retirees.
Jennifer Martin, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, which represents teachers, told WTOP she doubts the school system will be able to fill all its open positions.
“If history is any indicator, what will once again happen is that the existing workforce will have to take on the duties that would have fallen to people they hired, if they could have found them,” she told WTOP.
Martin did not attend McKnight’s briefing. Afterward, the MCEA issued a lengthy statement, saying the union is “gratified” that MCPS is stepping up hiring efforts but that the union had been raising alarm “for many months that the exodus of teachers and other staff poses trouble for staffing in the 2022-2023 school year.”
The statement went on to say that MCPS leaders have dismissed concerns raised by teachers about workload and burnout in the past.
“The increasing strain and burnout among those who remain will make it difficult to provide the excellent education our students deserve,” the statement said.
The union is currently in negotiations with the school system on specific areas and will enter full contract talks later this year, and Martin said she remains hopeful of resetting the relationship with school system leaders thanks in part to new leaders joining the superintendent’s staff, including a new chief operating officer and new chief academic officer.
WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.