MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (FOX 5 DC) - Montgomery County’s Board of Education convened for a special meeting on Tuesday that critics say should have never happened.
The meeting ended with MCPS’ School Board now officially approving a 2021-2022 calendar change that will give MCPS staffers more time off, starting with this year’s holiday break.
Montgomery County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight announced the proposal at last Thursday’s school board meeting, arguing teachers and staff need more time to plan so they can better serve students.
School Board President Brenda Wolff said on Tuesday that at the last school board meeting while voting on the proposed calendar change, the board made a "procedural mistake."
By the end of the Tuesday special meeting, the board voted with all but one member, Lynn Harris, voting to move forward with the calendar change, now adding the following early release and system-wide closures days:
MCPS Proposed Early Release Days:
- Wed. Jan 12th
- Thurs. March 24th
- Wed. May 18th
MCPS Proposed System-wide Closures:
- Thursday, December 23rd
- Monday, December 27th
- Tuesday, December 28th
- Wednesday, December 29th
- Thursday, December 30th
- Wednesday, April 13th
- Thursday, April 14th
- Monday, June 20th
During normally scheduled MCPS holidays, both students and teachers are supposed to get the time off. However, some staff, a janitor for example, may still have to work.
With this calendar change, many MCPS staffers who are not teachers will now also have holiday time off. It was said in the meeting some 10 employees might get double pay if they still have to work through the system-wide closures.
Parents and BOE members voiced frustrations at least week’s meeting over not getting the calendar change proposal details from the interim superintendent until shortly before the school board had to vote on the matter.
"Yes, I agree, there may be processes in which we can improve what that communication looks like, but we did start this conversation a couple months ago," said Dr. McKnight said on Tuesday. She also spoke on the need to "act in real time in some ways" due to how different this school year has been.
"Our teachers and our administrators and other employees need a break so they can refresh and do a better job with our students," said MCBOE member Dr. Judith Docca.
"I just want transparency and honesty. If they want a break for the staff, then just say that. Don’t mask it as professional development," said MCPS parent Dawn Iannaco-Hahn who attended the Tuesday meeting.
"I think that while it doesn’t do nearly as much for teachers as needed, it is in a step in the right direction," said MCEA-NEA President Jennifer Martin.
Martin told FOX 5 Dr. McKnight’s team never contacted the MCEA about the calendar change. Martin confirmed teachers are only getting three half days for planning in this new schedule.
"I think this is symptomatic of a larger issue and that larger issues is over the last 20 years, there’s been a movement in this country to strip boards of education of their power and turn over the control of our public school systems to a ‘superintendent’ who is then a ‘CEO’ and reports to know one," said Janis Zink Sartucci, a member of the Montgomery County volunteer group, "Parents’ Coalition."
During Tuesday’s special meeting, the group’s twitter handle trailed BOE members, writing in one post:
"While @mocoboe is in recess to read Robert's Rules, exactly WHAT was the procedural error last week that is being corrected today? Resolution was voted on. Failed. Error was that it failed?"
The group believes school board members pushed the calendar change through, not properly following voting rules. Some say Tuesday’s special meeting should not have been allowed.
This is the same group that through submitting their own Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, confirmed Dr. McKnight hired a communications consultant in August to the tune of $130 an hour, a $270,000 yearly salary according to the group. The group criticized McKnight for not making this information more public.
Sartucci tells FOX 5 transparency issues like the consultant hire and school calendar change proposal are what Parents’ Coalition members are frustration with.
MCPS Spokesperson Chris Cram told FOX 5 in an emailed response:
"Communications is critically important yet challenging for any large school district. The pandemic's complexities both elevated the importance of clear communication and posed difficulties in its execution. When Dr. McKnight became interim superintendent under this context, community members and staff identified a need to enhance systemwide collaboration and coordination in support of students, schools, and communities.
Aggie Alvez is a nationally recognized communications expert who has years of experience managing communications in large school districts, including Montgomery County Public Schools and the Houston (Texas) Independent School District. Dr. McKnight asked Ms. Alvez to work with her leadership team to improve how MCPS communicates and engages with our community members and stakeholders in the service of effectively reopening schools for full in-person learning.
Ms. Alvez is working on a temporary, part-time basis for a period that should not exceed six months. Funding is coming from current vacancies in central office, including the Office of Communications."
FOX 5 also asked Cram for updated information on the MCPS staffing shortages. We were not immediately given the latest breakdown but Cram wrote in response:
"As for substitutes, there is not a shortage as we have nearly 3000 available but they are not picking up daily openings as they were before the pandemic. Daily, nearly half of substitute requests go unfilled."