To compensate for staffing shortages in schools, MCPS has begun involuntarily transferring teachers. The action, despite its attempt to solve a familiar problem facing local school systems, has raised concern from the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), who is flagging the moves due to the specific timing and manner of transfers.
Involuntary transfers have always been a regular part of the school system. They are used to provide employees the opportunity to move to a different school or location, while also aiming to assist with staffing needs at schools.
“It is important to understand that the involuntary transfer process is a regular part of staffing work and is done collaboratively by MCPS and MCEA every year,” MCPS spokesman Chris Cram told MyMCM. “This process is prescribed by contract with MCEA.”
But concerns raised by MCEA – the teachers union which represents roughly 14,000 MCPS educators – isn’t the fact that involuntary transfers exist. Even MCEA President Jennifer Martin notes these transfers are a necessary part of the school system in an interview with The Washington Post.
The problem occurs with the timing and manner of transfers, which, according to Martin, is in violation of the union’s contract with the Board of Education.
In an agreement between MCEA and the Board of Education from this past academic year, Article 26 states that “MCPS will provide MCEA a list of unit members identified for involuntary transfer by the third Friday in March.”
However, affected teachers were notified unexpectedly this past week, which according to the agreement is well after the deadline and only a month before employees must report back to school.
“MCEA asserts that these late involuntary transfers violate our negotiated agreement with MCPS and we will be taking action accordingly,” Martin told MyMCM. “Leaders in the school system continually ignore the needs of staff and they too often play fast and loose with the contractual agreements they’ve made with us.”
According to The Washington Post, Cram confirmed five teachers at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring were transferred. Martin explains that teachers have found the reassignment process to be less than straightforward.
“A lot of teachers, it appears, have not yet received formal notice, and we are about a month away from the beginning of the school year. So, you can imagine the kind of chaos that was created due to MCPS’s failure to plan,” said Martin. “The members we know of have had conversations with their principals explaining they are being transferred, but they have not received written notice so far. And principals are also expressing frustration because now they must redo master schedules they had already worked out for their schools.”
Despite all of this, Cram states that the school system is justified to take these actions and is in no way violating their agreement with MCEA.
“There are two open periods generally beginning early in the calendar year and ending in mid-July in which a number of teachers are identified for transfer and those positions are collaboratively transitioned,” said Cram. “The teachers contract does allow for transfers outside of these open periods, as does MD law, however it is rarely used.”
“This process was not utilized over the last two years due to impacts of the pandemic,” said Cram. “Although the number of open positions seems large, it is not overly different from any other year.”
But as shortage problems concerning substitute teachers, bus drivers and other staff members continued to stack up throughout last year, there is no doubt remedying staff shortages became more important. It explains why the school system has been working “vigorously” to fill staff openings before the start of the next school year.
But as MCPS looks to fill more positions, Martin insists their actions are actually doing the opposite and could lead to more shortages, claiming that the added stress on educators is “worsening the conditions for burnout.”
“The question is, will even more teachers leave MCPS in exhaustion and frustration when the school year ends?” said Martin.
According to Martin, the involuntary transfers this summer are disruptive to the planning teachers do during the off-months to properly prepare for their students and classes in the fall.
“Good teaching requires adequate planning. We enroll in workshops, evaluate materials, prepare lessons, and even purchase supplies with our personal funds for the subjects and students we’ve been told we’ll be teaching,” said Martin. “Not only for those of us being transferred so late in the summer, but also for those of us whose schedules will change due to loss of transferred colleagues, we may now have to start over with this work and rush to get prepared.”
Should the county have continued shortages, further problems may develop. Not enough employees in schools may cause MCPS to reduce or drop certain electives or courses. And fewer teachers may mean larger class sizes. Martin explains these issues also affect equity in the classroom.
“In many cases, the word we are receiving from our members is that the courses being dropped are those designed to support students with the greatest need, so there is a huge equity concern,” said Martin. “Overcrowding of classes leads to less opportunity for students to receive tailored instruction and individual support, and it increases teacher workloads.”
According to Cram, the school system believes their work to recruit more employees will be the key to solving issues posed by staffing shortages. However, Cram indicated finding new employees is easier said than done, pointing out the hiring environment has become “far more competitive than in years past.”
As of Monday, MCPS has 377 open full-time teaching positions, as well as 162 open part-time teaching positions. Cram did not comment on whether the school system plans to continue to involuntarily transfer more employees in the dwindling days before the start of school in the fall.