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'Demoralized, exhausted, and desperate for relief' | Montgomery Co. teachers plead for help with 'understaffing crisis'

On Tuesday, members of the Montgomery County Education Association called on school leaders to help with understaffing that they said was impacting learning.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — State leaders and members of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) pleaded for assistance on Tuesday to deal with an "understaffing crisis" they said was impacting learning inside local schools.

During a press conference outside the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) building, MCEA President Jennifer Martin said 161 teaching positions and 116 paraeducator positions remain unfilled.

Due to the shortage, Martin and others said teachers were being forced to help in other understaffed classrooms during their lunch breaks while having to sacrifice time from lesson planning.

"MCPS employees are demoralized, exhausted, and desperate for relief," Martin said. "On any given day, half the requests for substitute coverage go unanswered. We have come to a point where there is no way our efforts can come close to meeting the needs of the children we serve.” 

MCPS is the largest public school district in Maryland.

Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery County), who once worked as a teacher in the district and has children in the local schools, described sitting in on his son's Spanish class and witnessing the staff shortage firsthand.

"Partway through his first quarter, his Spanish teacher had to go on leave. She had a medical emergency in the family. For the rest of the first quarter for more than a month, he did not have a consistent Spanish teacher. He had teachers being sent into the classroom that didn’t speak Spanish," he said. "MCPS does not have enough qualified substitutes to fill these holes in our classroom.”

To help with the ongoing issues, MCEA called on MCPS and the Board of Education to provide "adequate compensation" for covering classes and other duties during planning time, grant additional early release days to allow for more lesson planning, and hire more substitute teachers by offering a "pandemic wage premium."

Del. Luedtke added that a recent meeting with the Spending Affordability Commission in Annapolis revealed that Maryland had a "structural surplus" for school spending.

"The state of Maryland has a multi-billion dollar surplus. There are billions of dollars flowing from the state right now flowing to school systems all across the state," he said. "Don’t tell me that MCPS doesn’t have the money to pay substitute teachers enough to recruit an adequate number of subs. We have the resources and ability to do right by our educators and students and parents and we absolutely should.”

Following the press conference, WUSA9 received a statement from MCPS about the negotiations that will take place with teachers and staff.

"MCPS teachers and all of our staff are working very hard this year. They give 100% and more and are dealing with pandemic mitigation efforts in our schools at the same time," an MCPS spokesman wrote. "They and we are entering a period of negotiation for employee contracts and I'm sure they will bring their concerns to those conversations. Out of respect for that process, I can't really say any more at this time."

If the requests for assistance go unmet, MCEA warned of possible resignations from teachers. 

"What I’m concerned about is the potential for a great resignation at the end of the year," Martin said. "I think it is an open question as to who will be left standing given the incredible demands that we’ve been forced to deal with in the last first quarter.” 

Moving forward, the members hoped MCPS and the Board of Education would hear their calls for help.

"We urge MCPS and the Board of Ed, get to the table with us," said MCEA Vice President Nikki Woodward. "Talk it through with us.”

MCEA added that it expected to meet with Board of Education members later this week.

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