Colby K-12 OK’s new staffing plan
Under a new staffing plan approved by the Colby School Board Monday, the district’s non-teaching employees will continue to be paid two-thirds of their normal wages while school buildings remain closed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Also, after receiving several letters from stressed-out special education teachers struggling to work with their students online, the board authorized district administrators to call back certain teachers aides who are needed to help shoulder the extra workload. Aides with the most seniority at each building — elementary, middle and high school — will be given the first opportunities for returning to work in a virtual setting.
Board members were forced to meet under highly unusual circumstances in order to comply with social distancing guidelines issued by the state. Superintendent Steve Kolden and a few board members met in the high school theatre, while others participated from their homes via a program called Zoom.
A total of 15 participants were listed in what looked like an audio-visual online chat room, which included a handful of district staff in addition to the board.
The only action item on the agenda was a proposed action plan regarding staff pay and benefits during the coronavirus shutdown, which may last through the end of the school year.
At the board’s regular monthly meeting on March 16, Kolden said his initial plan was to start issuing layoff notices to the district’s approximately 50 hourly employees if the school shutdown lasted longer than April 5. However, board president Bill Tessmer said he wanted to revisit that plan, knowing that the shutdown would likely last longer The district no longer plans to lay anyone off during the shutdown, based on the plan approved Monday.
Teachers will continue teaching students online, as they have been for the past couple of weeks, but teachers aides have been directed not to work. Instead, they will collect two-thirds of the wages they’d get for a normal shift.
Other district staff, such custodians and secretaries, will be paid the same two-thirds wages while not working, and administrators and their assistants will continue to work as normal, either on site or remotely.
Kitchen staff needed to prepare meals will still be working. Kolden said the district has delivered over 400 meals, at the village halls in Dorchester and Unity and at the high school.
All staff will be allowed to use their accrued sick leave to make up the one-third of wages they are not getting paid.
Prior to Monday’s meeting, board members received email messages from several special education teachers, their assistants and parents who pleaded with the board to allow the assistants to continue working in some capacity during the shutdown.
“The hardest thing of all is that we have been told that we cannot continue to support our students in this new way of learning,” wrote special ed assistant Becky Schmelzer.
Lesa Hawkey, an alternative learning aide who also has special needs students at home, said many of these kids are “not comfortable reaching out to teachers online” and need extra help in the virtual learning environment.
High school special ed teacher Nicole Schalow told the board that she is “overwhelmed” after one full week of virtual learning and needs support from paraprofessionals to adequately address her students’ needs.
“When looking at a normal school day, my three support staff spend more time with the students than I do, helping provide supports, modifications and accommodations for these students,” she wrote.
Kolden raised questions about how much time the teachers aides should be assigned to work, pointing out that staff could end up earning less money by working than just collecting the twothirds of their normal wages.
“I don’t believe they need to be online supporting our students for an eighthour shift because our kids aren’t online for the entire eight hours,” he said.
Ultimately, the board left it up to Kolden and the other administrators to call back special ed and English Language Learner aides to help teachers as needed.
Kolden praised the district’s teaching staff for transitioning to an all-online learning environment within a matter of days after the school buildings were closed after March 16.
“That’s a huge learning curve,” he said.
Board members Teri Hanson relayed the story of one elementary student who didn’t want to log out out of their virtual classroom, even after the class was over.
“The students are missing their teachers,” she said.