FCPS Employees Address Board Of Education About Understaffing Issues

They says it’s having an impact on School System operations.

Frederick, Md (KM) During a special meeting Monday night, the Frederick County Board of Education heard an ear full from school system employees on a number of issues connected with understaffing, such as low salaries, no benefits in some cases,  lack of time for planning  and not enough personnel to on staff.

Missy Dirks, President of the Frederick County Teachers Association, says this is having an impact on local public schools. “Everyday, there are teachers specialists, intervention, school counselors, behavioral specialists and the like who are covering classes who do not have a daily substitute, long term substitutes, or the position is completely vacant,” she said. “This means they cannot attend to their regular jobs: small group instruction, guidance groups, crisis intervention, etc,”

Sharon Ebert, President of the Frederick Association of School Support Employees, described how one support employee who says she’s at her wits end. “I get kicked, spit on and bit on a daily basis, not to mention the constant changing of soiled diapers,” Ebert said. “The children I worked with are not potty trained. Most are five to eight years old, except for a few under four. Yes, we work with these children because we care. But it would great to get compensated fairly for it.”

Like many school systems around the country, Frederick County has had difficulties filling open positions, including teachers, custodians, bus drivers and others. As a result, bus drivers have had to work more than one route; custodians have had to work long hours to keep school buildings  clean, and teachers had have to take other responsibilities outside of their normal job descriptions, such as cafeteria duty.   This overwork has resulted in low morale among FCPS staff.

Teacher Hayden Duke said teachers working outside of their normal job descriptions  is something that needs to end. “We didn’t get into teaching to do this and do that,” said Duke, who spoke passionately to the Board.  “We got into teaching to work with the children, to try to make them question everything, to learn, to see this world for the amazing place that it is. That’s why we got into teaching for. That’s why get up early.  . That’s why we stay late. That’s why we all, including myself, shed tears over this, trying to do the absolute best that we can.”

And it wasn’t teachers who spoke. Bruce Taylor is a custodian at Thurmont Middle School. He said he and other custodians are “extremely overworked.” “One of the biggest problems is there’s no substitute custodians. It’s an unbenefited position. That needs to change,” he said. “There is 25 to 30 calls in the system daily, calls that need to plugged. There’s no one to do it. On the average, 10% of the staff is going to be out for personal or health reasons, and we have no help coming in.”

The School Board is expected to discuss this issue again at its meeting on Monday, November 22nd, and could take action then.  . Among the issues to be addressed include eliminating up front costs when hiring new employees, paying a living wage, creating time set aside  for teacher planning and reaching out to volunteers and the community for assistance.

Salary is often a big issue among Frederick County School System Employees, according to Casey Chang, a secretary at Oakdale Elementary School. “I think right now to help morale is just pay people for the hours that they’re working,”  she said.

By Kevin McManus