MCPS strives to overcome staff shortages

Main+office+secretary+Natalie+Britton+works+at+her+desk+during+lunch.+Secretary+Britton+supervises+the+class+coverage+program%2C+which+has+evolved+in+recent+years+to+reflect+difficulties+in+staff+procurement+as+a+result+of+changes+in+the+hiring+labor.

Photo by Alexander Lewton

Main office secretary Natalie Britton works at her desk during lunch. Secretary Britton supervises the class coverage program, which has evolved in recent years to reflect difficulties in staff procurement as a result of changes in the hiring labor.

Like many school systems across the country, MCPS has been dealing with a significant staffing shortage across its workforce ever since a rise in the number of resignations and retirements brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
MCPS employs around 25,000 employees, but has been unable to adequately fill a number of critical positions such as substitute teachers and bus drivers.
The county has implemented a variety of programs in order to fill these gaps and prevent the potential learning loss posed by the absence of critical staff.

In the classroom

To compensate for the lack of teachers, MCPS has attempted to remedy the issue through a variety of methods including raising pay for substitute teachers, transferring teachers to schools with a greater staffing deficit and holding job fairs to attract new applicants.
Despite these efforts, there have still been difficulties in finding enough instructors to fill every class period. In order to prevent disruptions to the learning process, MCPS has utilized a program where teachers get paid for covering classes for other teachers when they are absent.
Main office Secretary Natalie Britton runs the program, which saw a surge in usage last year due to absences caused by the pandemic and MCPS’s quarantine policies.
“When a teacher is out without a sub, we ask for coverage from one of the teachers … We do get some volunteers, the majority of them are volunteers, and then some that we just ask nicely and say ‘hey are you able to help?’” Britton said.
Even though the number of absences due to Covid have diminished, the substitute shortages have continued to present a significant challenge to the county.
“It kind of depends on the day, there’s some days where we won’t need it because everyone has a sub, and then there are some days where we might need help,” Britton said.
While the program has been around since long before the Covid-19 pandemic, it has taken on a new level of importance.
“In previous years it was more of… sometimes the same teacher would help out with the same class and something like that, whereas now it’s more of everyone’s helping each other instead of it just relying on certain teachers for certain periods… everyone’s stepping in and trying to help each other and be more of a team,” Britton said.

On the bus

Outside of the classroom there have been difficulties in procuring enough bus drivers to staff all of the bus routes.
Multiple times this school year, MCPS students have been left waiting for long periods of time for their bus to school.
With this comes reports of school bus driver shortages throughout Montgomery County and the rest of the nation; a problem that began years ago and worsened with COVID and deteriorating working conditions. Superintendent of Schools Monifa McKnight addressed this shortage as “an urgent and ongoing issue.”
McKnight recently announced new measures to ensure buses run correctly. These include a “Sweeper Bus” program that will be available to cover any missed routes and a $25-per shift pay benefit for any driver who covers an extra morning or afternoon route. The pay benefit was reinstated from last school year in partnership with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500.
In addition, MCPS currently has 37 new drivers in training after recent hiring events.
According to HopSkipDrive, a school transportation company, about 88% of schools in the US are facing a shortage of bus drivers. For most of these districts, issues of pay and driver retirement have been leading causes.

We love what we do. The job is extremely rewarding. However, it is impossible to maintain that cheerful disposition needed for the job in these conditions. We deserve better from MCPS.”

— SEIULocal 500 member Kelvin Brown

Sometimes, bus routes that are not covered as a result of the shortage are not updated on the MCPS website, making it even more difficult for students and parents.
“I think there’s an excess of buses that they can’t fill with drivers, and if kids can’t get to school then that’s a big problem,” junior Makenna Schoen said.
Hiring new drivers and improving work conditions remain issues MCPS is working to fix.
MCPS has the sixth largest bus fleet in the nation, employing 1195 bus operators.

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