By Randi B. Hagi, contributor
The Harrisonburg City School Board is considering increasing the amount retired teachers could receive for unused sick days but will continue to debate the merits of the proposal during a future work session.
The suggested increase in sick leave payouts was one of three proposals that the schools’ Executive Director of Finance Tracy Shaver presented to the board at its meeting Tuesday.
Currently, teachers who have worked for city schools for less than 10 years can accrue sick leave pay at $10 per day, up to 120 days, which will be paid out to them upon retirement. Teachers having worked for city schools for more than 10 years can accrue $20 per day for up to 150 days.
Shaver explained that all other nearby localities “pay out significantly more” for unused sick days upon retirement.
“We believe it will incentivize employees to come to work and not take ‘mental health days,’” Shaver said.
The proposed change could pay out city school retirees up to $10,000 for their unused sick days, based on 25 percent of that teacher’s daily rate, and how long they’ve been employed there.
“I’m concerned about incentivizing teachers not to take sick leave,” said School Board member Nick Swayne. School Board member Kristen Loflin nodded. Swayne said he doesn’t want to see a policy change prompting ill teachers to come to school in hopes of padding their retirement fund, only to spread germs.
“If I want to value teachers, I give them a raise,” Swayne said. “I don’t think this is an incentive for recruitment or retention.”
Board member Obie Hill said most teachers only take sick days when they need them.
Both Hill and board Vice Chair Andy Kohen agreed that mental health days are an appropriate use of sick leave.
“Teacher attendance has become an issue,” said Superintendent Patrick Lintner, noting that more teachers call in sick on Mondays and Fridays than on other days, although that could include scheduling doctors appointments on those days to cause minimal disruption.
Kathy Holter, a teacher and president of the Harrisonburg Education Association, said she thinks the policy change “is a wonderful idea.” She cited colleagues who, nearing retirement age, take off a day every week to make use of their sick leave because they don’t believe it’s worth as much to them in cash.
The school board will discuss the issue further in a work session before taking a final vote on the matter.
In other business …
Two other proposed policy changes passed the first reading without discussion.
One aims to clarify the hours worked in a teacher’s contractual period. The other would adjust the amount an employee can roll over personal leave days and number of personal leave days paid out at the end of one’s employment.
Shaver also presented a request for a supplemental appropriation of $478,809.33 from City Council. The request, however, does not mean the city is asking for additional tax dollars from the city but expands the city schools’ operating budget to account for federal, state, and local grants and reimbursements that the schools received this fiscal year.
The board voted unanimously to request the supplemental appropriation from the council, so the schools can spend that grant money.
Cupcakes for counselors
Lintner encouraged the public to bring “a cupcake” to school board members for Virginia School Board Appreciation Month and to school counselors for National School Counseling Week.
“I really can’t say enough good things about our school counselors,” said Lintner. “It’s critical for our students to have access” to mental health services.
Interviews for the superintendent position began last week. The school board passed a motion Tuesday night to continue the interview process in closed sessions over the next 15 days if needed.
The board closed Tuesday’s meeting by entering a closed session to discuss the applications for the superintendent position, and contracting architectural services for the new high school.
Note: this post has been updated to correct the spelling of board member Nick Swayne’s last name and correct the description of the next step in the superintendent search process.