Supt. Grant Eloi was visibly excited at the school board committee meeting Tuesday when he outlined the distribution of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding to school personnel.
He said ESSER funds could be used for summer school pay increases for school food service workers and managers. He then stated he had consulted with La. Dept. of Education (LDOE) and lawyers and found his request for employee Covid compensation and teacher recruitment stipends to be compliant with all standards. “It’s an allowable expense under ESSER guidelines,” Eloi said.
The disbursement is pending state budget approval. He laid out the amounts each employee would get stating, “Everyone gets the same rate of pay.” If employees missed days during Covid, the pay would be prorated but at the same rate as those who did not miss any days.
To receive the compensation, employees must be full time as of May 31 of this year. Full compensation would be $1,050 if employed as of Oct. 1, 2020, $600 if employed as of Feb. 1, 2021; and $300 if employed as of April 1.
To be entitled to full compensation, an employee must not have missed more than 20 work days during the 2020-21 fiscal year. Approved Covid leave days will not be counted against that calculation.
Employees who miss 21-90 days approved paid leave will get $600 if employed Oct. 1 or $300 if employed Feb. 1. Those who missed 91-125 approved pay leave days will get $300 if employed as of Oct. 1.
Employees currently on leave without pay or in a pending status will not be eligible for the stipend. Eloi said he was glad to announce that part time employees and substitutes are eligible.
If subs or part time employees worked 120 days, or 840 hours, their stipend would be the full amount, $1,050. Those working 100 days, or 700 hours, would receive $600 and those working 75 days, or 525 hours, would receive $300. There would be no adverse impact to employees retiring prior to June 4.
School board members are not eligible for the compensation.
Eloi said the plan was, “Responsible, fair, legal and ethical.” Distribution should be mid-June.
There are five schools in the parish categorized as Comprehensive Intervention Required (CIR). They are L.P. Vaughn, M.R. Weaver, East Natchitoches, Natchitoches Jr. High and Fairview Alpha. Eloi said the classification came in part from School Performance Scores. “We need to make the money work for us,” he said of the ESSER funding. “We can offer teachers an incentive to go there and continue to work there.”
Teachers at these hard-to-staff schools could get initial, and continued employment, incentives of $5,000 the first year, $6,000 the second year and $7,000 year three for a total of $18,000. The pay is for certified teachers currently employed at one of these schools, those who transfer to one and new hires. Employees as of Oct. 1, 2020, will be entitled to the full amount. Others will be prorated. Long term subs who get certified will also receive the stipend at a prorated amount.
“This is a huge initiative that could make a big impact,” Eloi said.
In other business, ECCO terminal manager Alfred Matthews said they continue to have a driver shortage. He said bus monitors are becoming licensed with two receiving their licenses next week. They offer a training program for anyone interested in driving a bus. “It’s an open invitation,” he said. They offer paid training as well as positions as bus monitors while training. He said for the last three weeks his maintenance crew has been dedicated to ensuring air conditioning is working on all buses.
School board Finance Director Lee Waskom said many concerns were voiced about students having one and a half hour bus rides. ECCO management and Waskom are evaluating bus routes to see if they can reduce ride time. They are also evaluating the condition of the roads.
Board President the Rev. Steven Harris mentioned an incident where a road was impassable and students were trekking through a scope of woods to access the bus. “This is unacceptable,” he said.
Waskom also presented the tax commission report that revealed a 7.7% increase in revenue for March. He said the April funds were just deposited Monday and they were enough to make him “giddy.”
“You’ll be happy,” he said.
Shawna Hicks reported on the school food service (SFS) program. She said the USDA will reimburse for losses due to the pandemic. She said there would be “lots of new equipment” for school cafeterias. She announced there is approval for continued free meals for all students next year and that the SFS program, thanks to Covid relief payments, should “start next year in the black and with a cushion.”
She and Waskom reiterated the need for whole warehouse generator that comes at a cost of $156,000. “It only takes one (Hurricane Laura) for it to almost pay for itself. We had losses of $100,000 last year,” he said.