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Nelson schools address additional pay for teachers pulling extra weight amid COVID
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Nelson schools address additional pay for teachers pulling extra weight amid COVID

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Due to teacher and substitute shortages, Nelson County Public Schools soon will add new pay programs for staff members who go above and beyond.

Shannon Irvin, assistant superintendent for administration, said at the Nelson County School Board’s meeting Thursday the division has learned a lot as it has maneuvered through COVID-19, adding the pandemic has had a devastating effect on staffing, both in terms of prospective employees afraid to come into the workforce and a low substitute pool.

“We have also had some positions that have been difficult to fill that are still empty that we are hoping for some December graduates to come and help us out,” she said.

Irvin suggested two pay incentive programs for teachers and bus drivers that the board voted on and approved at the meeting.

One program will compensate teachers who have been volunteering to work during their planning period to cover other teachers’ absences.

Irvin said teachers are paid for the work they do outside of school, including tutoring or working in any other capacity outside of their contract hours, but this program would pay teachers during their contract hours.

“But the Code of Virginia requires us to give teachers a duty-free lunch period, or planning period. So what we would like to do is to pay them the rate that we would normally pay them after school — the $23.63 an hour for the work that they’re doing within the school day when they should be having unencumbered time planning,” she said.

The second phase of that plan would pay bus drivers who have been running additional routes or add children to their trips, which adds to the time it takes them to do their routes.

Irvin said they are paid on a daily rate basis but before now the schools have not given them additional compensation to do that.

“We feel it’s only right that we would also pay them for the extra time that they’re taking out of their day to cover these situations for us so we would like to pay them their hourly rate for the additional time that it’s taking,” she said.

The other pay incentive is to give full-time employees a $500 bonus at the end of the year if teachers do not miss time that was unnecessary.

Necessary time off would include any COVID-19-related illness or quarantine or any deaths of an immediate family member.

“This would be over and above their current compensation and it would incentivize them to come if they did have to miss for a particular reason we included in this proposal that their bonus could be reduced by $100 per day for any new leave requested after tonight’s school board meeting,” she said.

So if a teacher had an appointment they couldn’t miss or didn’t want to miss, their bonus instead of being $500 would be $400, according to Irvin.

The program would be cost neutral for the division because it would use the substitute teacher budget to pay the bonuses a year end.

“And our hope is that we would have more people on task, on jobs and we know that there is no replacement for a good teacher in the classroom, so hopefully it will improve your instruction in the quality of education our students are getting,” Irvin said.

Margaret Clair, chair of the board, supported the two programs but expressed concern over teachers being afraid to take off days for mental health-related reasons.

“I’m concerned people would not take the time they need off in order to get the $500,” she said. “I just would want it to be very clear that if you are ill you should stay home, with anything. I’m worried about mental health.”

Board member George Cheape said he thinks it is a good idea and if the division is going to ask above and beyond of teachers, they should be rewarded.

Philip Kershner, choir teacher with NCPS and vice president of the Nelson County Education Association (NCEA), spoke during public comments on behalf of the association saying the nation has been facing staff shortages and higher employee turnover in the schools over the last few years.

“The education system is facing a crisis to keep schools running and this staff shortage has been compounded by the longevity of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “The increase in workload expectations and work-related stress and anxiety have caused many educators to leave the fields they love Nelson County Public Schools has not been immune to these challenges.”

One of the NCEA’s goals is to offer support and resources to its members, he said.

“We are aware that many of our members and NCPS staff are feeling the effects of our additional workload, such as additional paperwork, added job requirements due to student absences and an increase in responsibilities to accommodate staff forced to take leave, leaving many of us to feel overwhelmed with our careers,” he said.

To better understand staff concerns and bring solutions that will benefit all staff and students, Kershner said the NCEA has sent out a confidential survey to its members which the association hopes will provide useful information on where critical areas of concern exist and how to move forward with solutions that will benefit students and staff.

“Our goal is to summarize our findings and suggestions, and present this information at the November school board meeting,” Kershner said.

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