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Notice of involuntary transfers too late for Montgomery teachers, union says

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Some Montgomery County teachers are being involuntarily transferred to different schools to plug staffing shortages, but union leaders say the late timing of the transfers violates its contract with the system.

Montgomery County Public Schools educators are scheduled to report back to school in roughly a month, and affected teachers received transfer notices this week, according to the Montgomery County Education Association, the teachers union that represents about 14,000 educators in the system. Under the union’s agreement, the organization is required to receive from the school system a list of members identified for involuntary transfer by the third Friday in March. The group is planning to file a grievance.

Involuntary transfers can and need to happen, MCEA President Jennifer Martin said in an interview Friday, but “there’s supposed to be a time for when they happen.”

School system spokesman Chris Cram confirmed that five teachers were transferred at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring. Martin said she has heard from almost a dozen members — including teachers at Sherwood and other schools — that have been affected. Cram did not respond to questions about teachers affected at any of the system’s other 208 schools.

Concerns about the timing of the transfers comes as school systems across the country are facing staffing shortages seen since the pandemic began and pushing to fill spots to keep schools operating.

School transfers are used to meet regular and projected staffing needs at schools, Cram said. The human resources, finance, and school support and well-being offices partner to decide when staff needs to be moved around.

But in the past two years, those transfers haven’t taken place, Cram said.

The teachers union expected more involuntarily transfers to take place this year, since they were paused over the past two years during the pandemic as the school system shifted classes online before moving back to in-person learning, Martin said.

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However, the transfers are taking place at “the 11th hour,” Martin said. When involuntarily transfers occur, the jobs are posted typically so teachers who have to transfer can have some say in which school they go to next, she said.

But the lag can create “tremendous hassles for folks,” Martin said, who are now shifting their lesson plans and trying to move forward after they’ve already planned materials for the class they thought they were going to teach. Members who are involuntarily transferring also have to plan around a new commute, rearranging day care and potentially getting to their second job, she said.

Montgomery has 390 full-time and 164 part-time open teaching positions as of Friday. There are 491 open support staff positions and 55 open bus driver slots, Cram said.

Students this year need summer school. Some districts can’t staff it.

The school system is working on recruiting more staff through both virtual and in-person job fairs locally, and at colleges and universities — including HBCUs — across the country.

“What is also vital to understand is that hiring for all positions in schools is highly competitive regularly and exceptionally competitive now,” Cram said. “All local systems are experiencing the same challenges in seeking qualified staff to fill all open positions.”

According to school system data, 576 teachers resigned as of June. The number of teachers resigning in the county hovered in the high 500s between the 2018-2019 and 2020-2021 school years. On average, 534 teachers resigned each year, putting this year about 8 percent above the average.

D.C.-area schools see spike in teacher resignations

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