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Carroll County schools starting year with better staffing, few vacancies

Carroll County Public Schools is in a better staffing position for Wednesday’s start to school year compared to this time last year. However, a few vacancies remain as the first day of school approaches.

Ernesto Diaz, director of human resources, said on Thursday said there were eight teacher vacancies, but added that number is likely to decrease before school starts.

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“Only one of these is a grade-level classroom teacher position at a comprehensive school,” he added.

Jon O’Neal, chief operating officer, said they were in a completely different situation last year. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed staff to not work in the buildings due to COVID reasons. And it left CCPS without as many as 300 in-person teachers at some points.

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“That’s not the case this year,” he said. “We will be open in person and we expect all of our people in person.”

Carroll County will open the school year with masks optional for students, staff and visitors in school buildings after the school board voted Monday evening to hold off implementation of the state school mask order until after it is approved by a General Assembly committee.

O’Neal said they expect there will be some COVID-19 quarantining of staff, but nowhere near the volume of last year. He said they also reactivated their substitute teacher procedure, which will allow them to fill the classrooms on a daily basis if a staff member cannot.

Last year, the school system was accepting volunteers to substitute in classrooms and even had central office staff fill in when needed. O’Neal said he does not anticipate reaching that level again and noted that the amount of teachers who are vaccinated, which he suspects is a high number, will help avoid that.

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The school system recently advertised they were recruiting substitutes and registered nurses. Diaz and O’Neal said the posting does not necessarily mean they are desperate for those positions but because they can never have enough. O’Neal added it’s good to have backup nurses as substitutes who can assist the health department with contact tracing.

Diaz said a shortage of educators continues to be an issue all around, but it’s nuanced. He said critical shortage areas are positions like special education, secondary math and secondary science. And healthy areas include elementary and physical education teachers.

“So far, it’s what we would’ve expected in any other years in terms of critical shortage areas,” Diaz said.

He said later he has not seen any evidence the pandemic has made the shortage worse. And they may have hired a few more people than they would have in prior years due to the federal funding they received.

The system received a one-time federal grant of $700,000 to fund three full-time behavioral specialist positions for the fiscal years 2022 to 2024. They hope to continue those positions past those dates using money from the Kirwan Commission legislation.

CCPS also hopes to fund an assistant principal at Manchester Valley High School, a coordinator of multitiered systems of support, six mental health therapists for general education students, five mental health therapists for special education students and seven information technology support positions. They also plan to phase in six elementary school counselors.

When it comes to buses, O’Neal said they are not hearing any major concerns. They have roughly 40 contractors who provide “exceptional service,” according to O’Neal. Although other jurisdictions experienced stranded students on the first day of school due to a bus shortage that affects the entire nation, O’Neal said they feel good about next week.

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