Northwest Public Schools’ classified staff will continue to be paid through the end of the school year, but an extra incentive to those who choose to come into work will not be decided upon until the board’s April 13 meeting.
At an emergency meeting Wednesday night held virtually on Zoom, the board voted 4-2, with board members Dan Leiser and Robin Schutt voting no, to pay the district’s classified staff through the end of the school year. Advisory board member Becky Rosenlund voted yes.
It also voted to offer a $3-per-hour incentive to employees who come into work to perform various tasks through April 17.
Superintendent Jeff Edwards said he can give the board an update on how many staff have used the incentive and what jobs were done at the April 13 meeting. From there, the board can decide whether it wants to continue offering the incentive.
Leiser and Schutt said they were not against paying classified employees their wages through the end of the year; rather, they were against the incentive. Schutt said she feels the district has the budget to pay all its staff and there is not a need for employees to be paid an additional stipend.
“I think having the district support you right now is an incentive because it is not how it is working in the private sector right now,” she said.
“If you can get a paycheck and come to work, we appreciate it, but we also support you if you have circumstances where you cannot come in. I support paying our staff; I just cannot get behind an extra incentive.”
Board member Bret Mader said he feels it is important to pay classified staff during the COVID-19 crisis and that every board members agrees it is “the right thing to do.” Unlike Leiser and Schutt, he said he is OK with the extra incentive.
“I think there are a lot of things across a large school district that we have that sometimes get put off due to just not having the time to do it,” Bret Mader said. “Now that we have some time, I think it is great idea to try to get some people to come do some of those jobs that need to be done at some point.”
Zach Mader said that if a classified employee is staying home, while another one is coming into work, with both being paid, there is a discrepancy in pay. To him, he said, the incentive makes sense.
Rosenlund said she does not have an issue with offering the incentive but was concerned about those employees following the recommended health guidelines.
“The only thing I am concerned about is making sure that if people are coming in to do these extra jobs, that they are following whatever social distancing and proper cleaning guidelines that the health department might have,” she said. “We just want to make sure the school is a safe environment for them and anybody they come in contact with.”
Edwards noted there is a Nebraska statute that dates to the 1918 flu pandemic that mandates certified teachers be paid their full salaries and wages during a pandemic such as COVID-19. He said those in the Northwest district will continue to be paid moving forward per the statute.
Also on Monday night, the board voted unanimously to approve a resolution declaring COVID-19 an emergency and authorizing Edwards to make all necessary emergency decisions for the Northwest district.
“As we are working through this, it gives me the authority to make decisions on the fly,” Edwards said. “Obviously, I am communicating with the board so you know what direction we are going in and going from there.”
Edwards also gave the board an update on how the district is moving to online learning. He said this week and next, students will do some review and enrichment activities.
Edwards said teachers have started to work in the Professional Learning Communities to put together next week’s learning and ensure learning packages are ready to be sent out Friday.
“We made sure students had devices last week,” he said. “What does that instruction look like? Every school district in the state is going through this right now. There is a lot of trial and error.”
Edwards said teachers have contacted their students to see how things are going and to see whether they have internet access. He added the district is working to ensure all students have access and the devices needed for online learning.
Edwards said the district’s special education staff has been working to making the necessary accommodations for its special education students. He added the district has a COVID-19 tab that serves as a “one-stop shop” for information related to COVID-19.
“We are trying to put everything into one space so parents and students can go there to get not only activities and lessons, but any information in regard to COVID-19,” Edwards said.
One question the district has gotten asked a lot lately, Edwards said, is on grading and why it cannot be required. He said any work from the third quarter that needs to be corrected, made up or retested will be graded. However, moving forward, Northwest will move to a pass/fail grading model.
“We have had some communications with colleges and universities,” Edwards said. “As of right now, they have indicated that they will accept pass/fail on transcripts for our high school students so there will not be any downfall.”