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Carroll County schools plan to offer more open contracts to candidates of color

Carroll County Public Schools staff set a goal to offer 25% more open contracts to minority teachers than the year before.

The goal was suggested during a Monday night work session for the system’s strategic plan. The plan includes four pillars and the focus for pillar III is to develop and support a successful workforce. One of the objectives of pillar III is to recruit and retain qualified and diverse employees reflective of the school community.

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CCPS staff also wants to fill 5% of the vacancies with minority candidates in each area. The areas include elementary, middle and high schools, curriculum, equity and performance, operations, special education, student services and technology services.

Special education has no minority staff. High schools have the highest number of people of color at 49 employees, but that only makes up 5% of the workforce for that group. Student services has the highest percentage of minority staff at 9.6%, but that only amounts to five people.

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Jon O’Neal, chief operating officer, said “the frustrating truth” is that the number of minority staffers have been stagnant for the past few years. The hope is that the open contracts will help them move the needle.

An open contract guarantees candidates have a position at the school system prior to knowing which school they would be placed, rather than CCPS waiting to make an offer once it knows where it has a vacancy.

With an open contract, CCPS could approach qualified candidates before they graduate as opposed to the traditional application process. Then, after two rounds of interviews and consulting fellow staff, CCPS can tell the candidate they are committed to bringing them on board and ask them to sign a contract, O’Neal said.

O’Neal said Carroll County has been at a disadvantage recruiting all teachers for the last decade. And the recession is a reason why.

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The school system has been limited in the amount of open contracts they could offer, due to budget restrictions, compared to surrounding districts, he said. But that should not be the case in the upcoming years, especially with the implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, an education reform policy.

“The power of an open contract is that it locks the school system into that qualified candidate but it also locks that qualified candidate into the school system,” he said.

Superintendent Steve Lockard said offering open contracts is not a new concept and it would help CCPS lock in quality people early. He added it helps them get the “best and brightest early before they can shop around” for the best deal.

Board member Tara Battaglia said she wanted to address the “elephant in the room.” She said the idea of those on social media is that the school system is pushing aside white applicants and focusing only on recruiting candidates of color. She asked that the process to be clarified for the public.

“That’s not only not true, it’s next to impossible,” O’Neal said.

He added the system legally cannot ask a candidate to identify their race or ethnicity until they have been hired. And the system does not know the candidates race until the interview. The EEOC, or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asks for that information in an application but it’s a separate form and “impossible” for the system to match up who’s who through that.

O’Neal said if the scenario Battaglia described was true, “then we’ve been doing a woeful job because our numbers are stagnant.” He said later the student demographic data is outpacing the staff demographic.

“We are falling further behind,” he added.

Data provided by CCPS showed 4.8% of school system staff are minorities, while state data showed 17.6% of Carroll students are minorities.

Board member Donna Sivigny said she has concern about the wording of the proposal “because it’s worded like a quota.” She said she understands what the school system is trying to accomplish, but clarified they want the best candidates.

Ed O’Meally, the board’s attorney, said CCPS goals align with what is required by the Code of Maryland Regulations, or COMAR. He added that the racial make-up in staffing should reflect that of the community.

“We’re not anywhere close to that,” O’Meally said.

The goals are intended to increase the percentage to diverse candidates, he said, but they are not fulfilling any set number.

When attempting to improve retention, CCPS offered exit surveys to those who left the schools system, but they did not have a good return rate, O’Neal said. The school system recently administered an anonymous survey to current staff of color to gauge their level of satisfaction with the work environment. Results of the survey have yet to be compiled, he said.

Marsha Herbert, school board president, suggested all staff be given a survey so they can know “the temperature” of each building.

Devanshi Mistry, the student representative, said it would be a good idea to improve cultural proficiency of staff overall. She added often times certain biases or comments by teachers in the classrooms can be harmful to students.

Staff also made suggestions on pillar IV, regarding a safe and secure environment. Its objectives include establishing a welcoming culture of diversity and promoting a culture of respect and civility.

Cindy McCabe, chief of schools, said staff recommends sending a survey to students annually starting in the winter of 2022. It was also recommended to revisit the bullying, harassment, intimidation, discrimination or hazing policy “to leverage systemic efforts in bringing community members together in order to provide all students, staff and families a safe and secure environment in which all can learn,” meeting documents stated.

The board held a meeting later that night to address items that were tabled from the June 9 update meeting. They approved an adjustment to the fiscal 2021 operating budget, adding $9.9 million from a federal grant given in response to the pandemic.

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