By MARINA WATERS
Washington County Schools are closed due to the COVID-19 virus, but that doesn’t mean its workers will be without pay.
At the board’s March 24 called meeting, the BOE unanimously approved paying “classified” workers, or employees that do not need a certification to do their job, throughout the school closure due to COVID-19. Director of Washington County Schools Bill Flanary said teacher and principal pay is already required by state law.
“We need to protect these employees,” Board member Mary Beth Dellinger said.
The board also unanimously passed a motion to pay dietary workers who are serving students during current school closures. That motion included paying $70 to dietary workers and $100 to kitchen managers and one stock driver each day they came to work through last Friday.
Board members said they felt paying dietary workers the bonus was a necessity because Flanary already told the workers they’d get a $70 to $100 bonus. Flanary said that was all in an effort to get more employees to “volunteer” to staff the kitchen during the closure.
“(Food Service Director Caitlin Kite) asked for volunteers to operate the kitchens, man the kitchens and take care of these needs,” Flanary said. “We could not get enough volunteers to do it. I had authorized her to sweeten the pot. I didn’t have the statutory authority to do that, but I did it anyway. With this money, we managed to get enough volunteers to staff the kitchens. To date we have served nearly 10,000 meals because of it. Without this money, we may not be able to keep our kitchens open.”
Some board members felt a bonus in addition to already receiving normal compensation sent the wrong message to other employees who are expected to be on call during the closure.
“We are setting a precedent that they’re volunteers, but they’re actually employees,” David Hammond said. “What if the custodians don’t want to come in or the bookkeepers? I want to take care of our employees, but it almost seems like a hostage situation in a way. That doesn’t sit well.”
The board later opted to pay dietary workers $10 an hour extra in hazard pay when “volunteering” to serve meals during the school closure. The motion stated that the food service director can choose up to 10 people to work at each food service site. That motion carried in a 7-2 vote. Annette Buchanan, Jason Day, Keith Ervin, Chad Fleenor, Todd Ganger, David Hammond, Phillip McLain were in favor. Mitch Meredith and Mary Beth Dellinger were opposed.
Flanary said he felt dietary workers were going beyond their typical job duties in addition to working with the public.
“Another way of looking at it is the people in the kitchen are interacting with a lot of people and those members of the public could be carrying this virus,” Flanary said. “Keeping these kitchens operating to feed kids at these satellites is over and above their job duties.”
Kite added that in addition to exposure, the dietary workers were also working full days and at times were at the schools before 6 a.m. for milk and other deliveries.
“I just don’t see how the employees that are getting there at 6 a.m. are not valued beyond an (instructional assistant) or another cafeteria worker who is at home and getting the same pay,” Kite said. “If those four (kitchen) managers don’t do it, I don’t know how I can run a prep kitchen. They’re the ones who know how to order food through Reinhart, and the quantities. They’re counting inventory. I cannot do it without those four running those kitchens.”
Still, some board members felt like the extra pay for dietary employees was unfair given that classified employees were expected to be on call and in town unless notice was given.
“We are treating people who are in the same class differently, that’s the problem,” Meredith said. “I think that we run a real risk legally in doing that to be honest with you. I’m sorry, but I can’t support it. I think if our policy is we’re going to pay them while we’re not in school and they are required to work and they don’t, that’s a problem. I can’t.”
The school board also opted to pay substitute teachers for any days they were “already scheduled” to work prior to the school system closure. That motion passed in a 8-1 vote. Meredith was in opposition.
Hammond said he felt the board should also consider recent circumstances, trust school leaders and try to move forward.
“I like everyone treated equally but we are treading in unknown water,” Hammond said. “We do have to rely on central office staff to make decisions pretty quickly sometimes without board approval. From this point forward we’ll look at things differently. There are some tough decisions that have to be made, some we’ll agree with and some we won’t. Moving forward we want everyone treated the same.
“This is a learning experience.”