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Commentary

Opinion: Prince George’s Schools Chief Responds to Op-Ed on Staffing ‘Crisis’

The Prince George’s County Public Schools headquarters in Upper Marlboro. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

By Monica Goldson

The writer is chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools.

Dear Editor,

In response to the June 27 op-ed (Prince George’s County Needs to Address the School Staffing Crisis – Now), I would like to address some inaccuracies about our work to recruit and retain educators in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).

I agree with the Prince George’s County Educators Association that the status quo is unacceptable, which is why my administration and the Prince George’s County Board of Education have offered unprecedented employee raises this year and essentially overhauled the current PGCEA contract by agreeing to more than 80 new terms.

In pointing to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future as an untapped source for teacher pay increases, it is important to understand the full context of this legislation. The Blueprint funds, approximately $40.5 million, will cover a 2.8 percent cost of living adjustment for all PGCPS employees. Meanwhile, the school system has already agreed to use our own fund balance to give employees significantly more — higher salaries, a larger cost of living adjustment and numerous other contract improvements.

While our school system, the second-largest in Maryland, is often portrayed as having a revolving door of teachers, our data tell a much different story. Consistently, PGCPS retention rates remain above 80 percent, which is on par with national averages of voluntary teacher resignations and retirements. When comparing the number of vacancies relative to the total number of teacher positions (approximately 10,000), PGCPS ranks fifth among all Maryland school systems.

As with other school systems, we have seen an increase in educators leaving this year, but not always for working conditions, the reason most frequently alleged.

For instance, 800 educators are leaving this year due to steep state requirements for teacher certification. Currently 85% of PGCPS teachers hold a professional certificate; for those who do not, it is virtually impossible to complete the certification requirements within two years while teaching a full load of classes.

PGCPS actively recruits teachers with innovative and exciting efforts, such as drive-through hiring fairs and “grow your own” opportunities for substitute teachers and paraprofessionals. We are the only Maryland school system with a resident teacher program in elementary education, special education and for English learners. Among districts statewide, we recruit the highest number of career-changers into the profession. We offer free teacher testing sessions, pay for educational coursework at the local college, and partner with other higher education institutions to offer the courses needed.

Yet, these efforts are undercut by mandatory state certification requirements that impact many teachers with demonstrated expertise who want to remain in the profession and, more importantly, in Prince George’s County Public Schools, including those 800 educators we will lose as of June 30. If not for the loss of these educators, our attrition rate would mirror other Maryland school systems.

Changes must be made at the state level that allow districts to validate a teacher’s professional knowledge and skills through alternative means, such as a rigorous teacher evaluation system and district-led professional development. This could lead to either a waiver of traditional requirements and/or allowing more than two years to meet the state requirements.

These pandemic years have shown that we are all in this together. We know that retaining the best employees and recruiting the best candidates will yield the best results for our 131,000 students. The sooner the contract impasse is resolved with PGCEA, the sooner we can get back to improving our students’ lives and educational outcomes.