Back-to-school update in Montgomery Co.: Teacher hiring, student progress, school bus contract

Montgomery County, Maryland, Public Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight on Monday reiterated that the school system’s teaching jobs are 99% filled.

The numbers change from day to day, McKnight said, but as of Monday morning, there were 161 vacancies remaining, with 98 of those being for special education teachers.

McKnight commented during a briefing hosted by Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz.



Special education positions are typically difficult to fill, and the school system recently offered a $5,000 bonus for classroom teachers willing to shift their assignments from general education classrooms.

McKnight told reporters that she remained committed to a cap of 32 students per classroom, and that “We’re going to honor that commitment absolutely.”

The superintendent said the county’s results on the national standardized PARCC tests would be released in October, “when we have assessment data back from our students.” At the same time, she said “That information just came out” and that it would be shared “internally.”

The District of Columbia recently released its PARCC results; one D.C. official called them “sobering.”

McKnight said “We have some work there to do” with second- and third-grade literacy, and that the changes in schooling from the pandemic had something to do with it: Students “were impacted by the pandemic when they were in kindergarten and first grade, and we know that those are foundational years for them.”

She added that “we’ve seen a dip” in in middle and high school mathematics skills.

Buses

The school system recently spent nearly $10 million on diesel buses, and while McKnight said the school system’s commitment to an electric bus fleet still stands, she added, “It is going to be a process.”

In an email to WTOP last month, school system spokesman Chris Cram told WTOP that electric special education buses, which are smaller and equipped with lifts and restraints, aren’t available from the supplier yet. “To meet our needs for special education students, we resumed an order for smaller, diesel buses to satisfy the need,” Cram said, adding that the school system will buy 326 electric school buses over a four year period.

That contract was OK’d under the previous transportation director for Montgomery County schools, Todd Watkins. Last November, Watkins and another school transportation official, Charles Ewald, were placed on administrative leave.

The Montgomery County police were investigating what they called “possible financial improprieties,” but McKnight said Monday she could not comment on the personnel issue. She did mention that MCPS has a new director of transportation “who is off to a great start here in Montgomery County Public Schools, and we do welcome him.”

WTOP has asked the police about the status of the investigation.

McKnight also said COVID-19 was “something we are monitoring,” but that so far “it in no way has shaped or impacted us being able to operate.”

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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