The Howard County Public School System and the county’s teachers union reached a hybrid learning work agreement last week.
While hybrid learning officially began in the county March 1, the school district and the Howard County Education Association have agreed on a memorandum of understanding regarding planning time and the extra work that educators sometimes do.
The agreement includes an extra two and a half hours of “self-directed planning time,” most of which is on Wednesdays, and extra money for educators who volunteer to substitute, according to a March 30 email from the teachers union to its 6,000 members.
Teachers who fill in during their planning time can be compensated at $55 per planning period, while paraeducators will get an extra $18 per hour when they substitute. In the past, paraeducators would only get extra pay if they substituted for more than a half-day, but this new agreement applies to all substitute work.
“Although this agreement does not solve all of the inherent problems with hybrid learning, it does provide teachers with additional planning time they need, and it attempts to address coverage issues by providing fair compensation,” union President Colleen Morris wrote in her email to the union’s members.
Morris said the agreement does not mean the union is ending its work-to-rule resolution, which the association’s members overwhelmingly approved in February. Work-to-rule is an action that results in the union’s members only doing what they are contractually obligated to do.
“This [agreement] would [not] have been possible without members sticking together through work-to-rule,” Morris wrote in the email.
HCPSS won’t immediately adopt spacing guidelines
The Howard school system will wait until at least the fourth quarter to implement the new social distancing recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amid the coronavirus pandemic.
State officials delivered a letter March 25 to local superintendents stating Maryland has adopted the new CDC guidelines that allow for public school students to maintain just 3 feet of distance between each other while in the classroom, instead of the previous recommendation of 6 feet.
Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said during the Board of Education meeting on March 25 that before making changes to the district’s hybrid model, he wants the plan to finish rolling out on April 12.
“I would like to see our phased-in hybrid model fully implemented before making any adjustments,” Martirano said. “If additional adjustments are needed based on this revised guidance, I will bring that back to the board for consideration in the fourth academic quarter, during the summer or in the fall.”
The CDC’s recommendations apply to all elementary schools and secondary schools who are in communities with lower transmission and elementary students with medium transmission. The guidelines state that adults should continue to maintain at least 6 feet distance from students and other adults.
Howard students who chose to return for hybrid learning are only in schools two days a week, but the change could potentially allow schools to increase class sizes and permit in-person classes five days a week.
Surveying parents about Digital Education Center
The school system is currently surveying parents about their interest regarding the district’s plan to implement a Digital Education Center.
The form, which was sent out to parents March 31 and will remain open through April 14, asks parents about their interest in the digital option. Parents won’t be asked for their official decision about whether to enroll their child in the Digital Education Center for the entire 2021-22 academic year.
The Digital Education Center, which is still subject to budgetary approval, is a virtual learning program irrespective of the pandemic. School system officials have said the program could look different for every student in it, with some students taking all of their classes in the center — which requires its own staff, administration and learning tools — while others would also take an in-person class at their assigned school.
In the proposed plan, courses would be offered during the fall, spring and summer semesters and could be offered from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The $6.2 million budget for the center projects an initial enrollment of 1,250 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
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While the district is planning for the Digital Education Center, it still needs to be funded in the fiscal 2022 operating budget. The budget the school board sent to the Howard County government is still several weeks from being approved. That means new initiatives or positions included will not be official until the final adoption by the board in May or June — after County Executive Calvin Ball and the County Council determines the amount of funding the school system will receive.
In past years, the amount of money the school board asked the county for has been significantly higher than the amount of funding provided, and this year is no different. The board’s $960.2 million spending plan — which requests $670.4 million from the county on top of the projected $289.8 million from the state and federal government — asks for $50.1 million more from the county government than the school system received last fiscal year. The 8% increase in requested funding from the county would be the largest single-year increase since fiscal 2008.
$1,000 incentive to educators who teach summer school
Last month, Martirano announced the school system aimed to double its summer school enrollment this year — up to nearly 25% of the district’s students — for kids who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and virtual learning.
Martirano also said staffing would be a “massive hurdle” and that the district was working to offer incentives for educators to teach summer school. The incentive, according to emails from school officials to educators, will be an extra $1,000 stipend to teachers who staff intervention/recovery summer school programs.
The increased pay — on top of the per diem rate summer school teachers are normally paid — could entice more educators to elect to work the extra four weeks in July. The $1,000 incentive — as well as an extra sick day — will only be awarded if the teacher works all 19 days of summer school.
The intervention/recovery programs do not include the enrichment programs the district has every summer, such as the Gifted and Talented summer institute and the Black Student Achievement Program.
Helping fund the district’s incentive is the $19.3 million it received in a grant from the federal government as part of the second relief package passed by Congress in December. The money will fund tutoring programs for the next two school years and for the enlarged summer school. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II Fund, a grant given to school districts across the country, comes from the $900 billion Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.