‘Let’s do the right thing’

Last week I attended the Washington County Board of Education meeting in Jonesborough. The topic of inclement weather was discussed throughout the meeting, which included how support staff are affected when school is called off.

Snow days causing problems for county schools

Published Feb. 11, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

With only three snow days left for the 2013-2014 school year, going to school on Saturday is one alternative under consideration.

“Which is never anyone’s favorite thing to do,” Director of Schools Ronald Dykes said of the prospect.

Other options include adding days to the end of the school year, using scheduled professional development days, or taking holidays, which may include part of spring break.

Since Washington County schools found themselves in a similar situation a few years ago, the Board of Education has since authorized Dykes to make adjustments to the calendar based upon need. State law requires 180 instructional days to complete a full school year.

In addition, Dykes said the BOE added two professional development days for the current school year to allow teachers additional preparation for the Common Core implementation.

“That increase has made us better instructors,” Dykes said.

Those two days were taken from the 13 days usually set aside for inclement weather.

Aside from school days, snow has also impacted support staff, who are not paid for lost time due to school cancellations.

During the Feb. 6 BOE meeting, Finance Committee Chair David Hammond raised an issue regarding snow days, support staff and equity. When school is called off, support staff, such as cafeteria personnel, only get paid for the hours they are actually on campus.

While unpaid for lost time, health insurance premiums are still withdrawn from payroll checks, leaving the employees with even less pay.

“They are relying on insurance. It is really what they are working for,” board member Jack Leonard said. “They couldn’t help that it snowed.”

He said since the employees could not get to school and clock in for a day of work, they end up being penalized.

“These are invaluable employees to the school system,” Leonard said, adding that the board should find a way to help them with their paycheck and insurance for those snow days.

Hammond, who became emotional during the conversations, said he knows payroll and he has done it for years.

“No one is going to tell me it is an audit concern,” he said of providing pay for those employees.

“I’ve already called the IRS local office for them to tell me it will not be.”

Hammond said the main issue is cafeteria personnel, which falls under a different funding category.

“For God’s sake we are dealing with people’s livelihood here,” Hammond said. “Let’s do the right thing.”

Director of Finance Beverly Thomas said for the past several years, they have given support staff half of the days they missed because of snow days. That does not include food service employees.

“In January, we missed eight days for snow,” she said. “We would give them four days, give them half of what they missed.”

Food service money, Thomas said, is not budgeted, but rather based on school lunch fees and reimbursements from the federal government. Although there is a fund balance, it does not consist of much money.

“(The) fund balance is going down year after year,” she said. “They wouldn’t have anything to pull from.”

Although board member Keith Ervin made a motion to pay their hourly rate, as well as their insurance, he revoked it after much heated discussion and instead made a motion to table the issue and send it back to the Finance Committee so options can be developed.

The motion passed eight to one.

Leonard said the board needs to address the issue soon.

“We need to have this set so we know what we are going to do when things like this happen,” Leonard said.

The issue will be discussed further during a called meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

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