Anne Arundel teachers’ union leaders are calling on the county school board to cancel contracts signed earlier this year to temporarily fill special education positions and to instead invest more in existing employees to support retention and recruitment.
But school officials say the contracts are needed to fill important classroom roles as the school year nears. The first day of school is Aug. 29.
In May the Board of Education approved a contract unanimously, with two members absent, allowing the school system to spend up to $1.5 million to pay a pool of staffing companies to temporarily fill 19 vacant positions in the Special Education Department and the Department of Student Services, according to AACPS documents.
Private contractors started advertising those jobs, some with salaries as high as $100,000 per contract year, earlier this summer. Nicole Disney-Bates, president of the Teacher’s Association of Anne Arundel County, said union special educators are paid based on the same scale other AACPS teachers use, with a starting salary of $47,836 for an individual with a bachelor’s degree and $57,102 for an individual with a doctorate, for 191 days of work per school year.
On Thursday, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said the system has a total of 741 special education positions, 81 of which are vacant. He said last school year five special education teachers worked through similar contracts with staffing contractors..
Noting the pay discrepancy and alleging contract violations, TAAAC has called on the board to end the practice.
“These actions are shocking and represent an unprecedented attempt to undermine the integrity of the collective bargaining agreement between TAAAC and the Board of Education and dilute the quality of education across the county,” Disney-Bates said in a statement.
The union held a rally Monday in Annapolis to bring attention to the matter.
Board of Education President Joanne Tobin and Superintendent Mark Bedell responded to TAAAC in a joint statement Monday. In the release, they said all teachers hired by contractors hold either a conditional, standard or advanced teaching certificate.
“TAAAC’s social media campaign opposing a staffing agency contract to help put caring, capable, qualified, certificated, and consistently present educators in front of students every day should be a clear signal to families of special education students that their leadership holds union interests in higher regard than what is best for students,” the statement read.
The staffing agency contracts extend until June 2025, with two one-year renewal options, according to AACPS documents. Companies listed on the contract, which created a “pool” of contractors for AACPS to pull from when they need staff, are: Bitech Solutions; Charm City Therapy; Delta T Group Maryland, Inc.; EDU Healthcare, LLC; Edustaff, LLC; General Healthcare Resources, LLC; HealthPro Pediatrics; LanceSoft, Inc.; Maxim Healthcare Staffing Services, Inc.; Pediatric Developmental Services; Prescence Learning, Inc.; Soliant Health; StaffEZ of Maryland; The Stepping Stones Group, LLC; Strides Therapy, LLC; and Sunbelt Staffing.
Tobin and Bedell wrote that the higher salaries advertised were due to the contractor not providing the same benefits that AACPS does, which can add as much as 37% in compensation.
While the details may not be the same as for teachers, benefits are still available through these contract positions. At least one listing for such a job, posted by StaffEZ two weeks ago, says the company offers benefits including health, dental, vision and retirement. It listed a salary of between $95,000 and $100,000.
Tobin and Bedell said in their statement that children with special needs have educational rights under federal and state laws that must be met regardless of staffing shortages.
“The use of contractors to secure such services is not a new practice, and AACPS refuses to tell families of special needs students that we will be unable to provide appropriate services due to staffing issues when contracted services are and have been a viable option,” they wrote.
Most of the companies in the pool had not worked with AACPS before May, according to Board of Education meeting records, with two exceptions.
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Maxim Healthcare Staffing Services entered an agreement with AACPS in October 2020 to provide one special education teacher who would be employed by Maxim, but supervised by AACPS, at a cost of $126,750. The contract had a provision to provide up to three more teachers. It was amended in November 2021 to provide an additional $300,000 for increased staffing needs.
In August 2021, AACPS entered into a $500,000 contract with Soliant Health to provide special education teachers.
Understaffing at AACPS schools resulted in a tragedy at Central Special School in 2019, when a 17-year-old student choked on a glove at school and succumbed to his injuries.
Bowen Levy required one-on-one supervision because he was diagnosed with autism and pica. But on the day he choked, Levy’s aide was absent, his regular teacher had left, and a substitute said she did not review a plan prepared for her, according to a report by the Maryland Department of Social Services. Pica is a disorder that involves eating of nonfood items.
DSS investigated the incident and found that Central Special was understaffed, and the resulting lack of supervision presented an opportunity for Levy to be injured.
The estate of Levy and the Anne Arundel County Board of Education entered into a consent decree in May under which the system will pay $2.5 million, implement a special safety protocol geared toward children with a specific form of autism and provide special education staffing data to the family.
On Wednesday, Anne Arundel schools also provided an update on its overall staffing shortage ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, as it tries to fill vacancies among drivers, food service workers, crossing guards and more. In that update, the system listed 311 vacancies for classroom teachers.