State Ed committee hears concerns about having enough teachers

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The Vermont House Committee on Education listened as several school superintendents told them they don't know if enough teachers will return to the classroom to offer in-person classes this fall.

The Zoom event featured five superintendents from around the state, Secretary of Education Dan French, leaders of the Vermont Education Association, Vermont Principals Association and Vermont Superintendents Association, and teachers.

Most of the speakers recapped what they have accomplished in preparation for the opening of schools, but while supporting getting kids back into the classrooms, the superintendents all said there were still significant challenges.

Chief among those challenges are whether teachers and staff will show up or tender their resignation before the school year starts.

Donald Tinney, president of Vermont National Education Association, told legislators that he represents about 13,000 educators.

"Which means I represent 13,000 different levels of stress and anxiety," Tinney said.

Jay Nichols, the executive director of Vermont Principals' Association said there are several concerns including funding issues, broadband capacity, school lunches and education consistency in a hybrid education model.

But one of the biggest concerns is child care for parents and teachers, and the safety of teachers and staff.

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"Principals are worried about staff safety for in-person instruction," Nichols said. "That's a big worry about whether teachers and support staff are actually going to be there."

Several superintendents echoed those concerns about being at risk with underlying health conditions that put them in the at-risk category.

Staffing is a considerable concern," said Libby Bonesteel, superintendent of schools for the Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools. "More than half our staff fall into the high-risk category at Roxbury Village School."

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She said, many teachers are waiting to see what exactly will be asked of them.

"We haven't figured out with our union how we're going to staff the virtual academy yet, but once people know what we need for the virtual academy, and what we need for in-person, I fully expect resignations to come at me." Bonesteel said, adding she understands the same problem exists across the state.

Rep. Kathryn Webb, chair of the Education Committee agreed. "We're hearing it's statewide," she said.

Rep. Larry Cupoli followed up on the issue.

"You brought up a pretty frightening aspect that perhaps teachers do not want to come back to the classroom," Cupoli said. "My concern is because of age or health compromised conditions they may not want to be the classroom."

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He asked what ramifications that would have on pay and replacing teachers.

"This is a conversation every superintendent is having with their school board and legal currently," Bonesteel said. "It's not like I have an abundance of teachers just waiting to work. It's hard to hire a teacher right now. I don't know if I could do it. We don't know what to do with that."

Jeff Fanning, of the Vermont NEA, said it's a major issue the NEA has known about for some time.

"The concern has long been known," Fanning said. "The challenge is the the plans are just recently out. Superintendents weren't able to know who was coming back to develop plans and people weren't able to determine whether they were willing to come back until they knew what the plans were. Everybody's situation is different."

Fanning said that's why the NEA was calling for a statewide commission to address these and other issues.

"Those are the questions people are grappling with right now with their spouses," Fanning said. "Who's going to stay and who's going to say I can't do it, or my spouse is at risk and I shouldn't do it. It's a health crisis, it's not an education crisis. It's spilling over into the education realm."

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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