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Mecklenburg trustees spurn teacher request for sick day pay / July 21, 2021
The Mecklenburg County School Board on Monday opted to forgo a request by teachers to allow them to bank more than 120 days of sick leave while employed with the school system.

The action came during a short monthly meeting in which trustees also approved a new fee schedule for students for the 2021-22 school year, and approved an update to the student handbook.

In the past, teachers have been allowed to accumulate unlimited sick leave days, for which they could claim compensation upon their retirement at their current rate of pay. No other employees within the school division were entitled to this benefit.

Two years ago, the policy was changed to cap at 120 days the number that teachers could accumulate and bank. The benefit was made consistent for all school employees.

Last month, Steve Whitten, on behalf of county teachers, asked the School Board to amend its policies to grant teachers an additional 10 sick days at the beginning of each school year. Teachers who had already accumulated the maximum limit of 120 sick days and who do not use all 10 of these additional days would be compensated at the substitute teacher’s daily rate of pay, $60, for the unused balance on the ten days. This compensation would be paid with their July paychecks.

School Board Attorney Wade Anderson advised that this provision was “discriminatory” by giving a benefit to one class of employees over others. He added that even though discriminatory, it was not unlawful.

According to Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols, Anderson “discouraged his clients from adopting such a provision due to potential for disparate impact.”

Nichols recommended the board make no change to the current policy, which allows all school employees to accumulate and bank a maximum of 120 sick leave days. Teachers would not receive the additional 10 sick days.

Board trustees agreed after Finance Director Christy Pfeffer confirmed that employees could not cash in their banked leave hours until they retire from the school division.

In other action:

Student fees for the 2021-22 school year were approved by trustees. Fees for elementary school students include the following:

» Planner for grades two-five (Clarksville, La Crosse and South Hill only) $4

» Transcripts/Non-academic records $3

» For high school students:

» Art supplies $10

» Accounting I workpapers $17.50

» Advanced Accounting workpapers $17.25

» Nursing Assistant Workbook $9.95

» Driver Education/Behind the wheel $125 per course

» Band supplies $10 per year

» Rental of instrumental $25 per year

» Locker fee $10 per year

» Lock fee $5

» Photojournalism supplies $25 per year or $12.50 per semester

» FFA dues $15

» CTE supplies $5 per course/per semester

» Diploma covers $10

» Transcript/non-academic records fee $2

» There are also special fees for supplemental paperback books purchased by students on a voluntary basis.

All students could face end of year technology costs of $25 for damage to their assigned Chromebooks, second offense, rising to $50 for a third offense. The fee for damaged or lost Chromebook chargers is $25.

The final draft of the 2021-22 student handbook was approved by trustees Monday night. These changes will be posted on the site for students and parents to review ahead of the start of school.

Parker Oil Company was awarded the bid to provide heating oil for the school facilities at a rate of $2.1657 per gallon, and for fuel at a rate of $2.0439 for unleaded gasoline and $2.1529 for diesel fuel.

In other business, the School Board agreed to lay the groundwork to prepare students interested in taking AP (advanced placement) classes. AP classes were suspended two years ago in favor of offering dual enrollment classes. Nichols said preliminary classes need to be offered to middle school students to ensure their successful completion of AP classes at the high school level.

The school division will begin training teachers interested in teaching AP classes during the next academic year. AP classes could be offered to MCPS students starting with the 2022/23 school year.

South Hill Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shannon Lambert thanked Nichols and the school board for “generously allowing the Chamber to utilize the grounds and athletic field at Park View High School on July 2 as a back up venue” for their recent Battle of the Hometown Heroes charity softball game and Picnic in the Park fireworks show.

The two events were originally to take place at Parker Park in South Hill. After a rainstorm that swept through South Hill on Thursday, Town Manager Kim Callis deemed the Parker Park fields too wet for play, though he agreed to allow the Chamber to use the field to shoot off the fireworks.

Lambert discussed the matter with her members who expressed their desire to hold both events in one location, as initially planned. She reached out to Nichols. He immediately agreed to her request.

Lambert said, “with the help of some tremendous vendors, volunteers, board members and my staff, we were able to swiftly and efficiently transition the event from Parker Park in South Hill to Park View High School, The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Department helped us assist the very large crowd in safely entering and departing the event, The new venue received extremely positive feedback from all attendees. None of this would have been possible without the generous use of Park View.”

Lambert said the success of the event prompted her to seek permission to use Park View High School again for the 2022 Picnic in the Park and Battle of the Hometown Heroes Charity ball game.

“Our chamber believes strongly in the concept of community strong. We are all individuals, businesses and organizations stronger when we pull together, Just as our recent Unity Luncheon (an annual luncheon for members of the Chase City, Clarksville and South Hill Chambers of Commerce), which was held at the site of the new school, was successful because of teamwork, so was our softball and fireworks event,” Lambert concluded.

Nichols described the progress students were making from attending summer school. He explained that students who were struggling as a result of the past year’s virtual learning have shown significant progress as of the end of the first half of the MCPS summer sessions.

“The first session of summer school ended on Wednesday, July 14. Participation in the program was outstanding and attendance numbers continue to show that the parents and students who needed the opportunity to make up for material lost with virtual learning are taking this seriously,” Nichols said.

He shared statistics showing the number and percent of students who have missed fewer than three days of schooling during the first summer session:

Chase City Elementary School – 80 of 90 students or 89 percent

Clarksville Elementary School – 65 of 81 students or 84 percent

La Crosse Elementary School – 89 of 102 students or 87 percent

South Hill Elementary School – 110 of 123 students or 87 percent

Bluestone Middle School – 92 of 103 students or 89 percent

Park View Middle School – 87 of 93 students or 94 percent

Bluestone High School – 38 of 46 students or 83 percent

Park View High School – 98 of 101 students or 97 percent

Nichols said the schools have been in touch with parents whose students might still be in need of remediation through the fall semester. They parents have been advised that their child will not be passed into the next grade without showing that they have achieved grade level learning.

Jennifer Trotter, operations manager, Deanna Swortzel, elementary school principal, and Peter Stewart, senior vice president of school development with Virginia Virtual Academy (VAVA), an online learning program, spoke to trustees about the advantages of partnering with their K-12 education program, which they said aligned with the career academies and curriculum currently in place in Mecklenburg County Public Schools.

According to Stewart, Virginia Virtual Academy is a tuition-free online public school program that offers a K-12 curriculum to students online. Materials are delivered directly to the enrolled students. They partner parents and students with what he said were “highly qualified, Virginia-licensed teachers” who guide and track student progress and achievement through the curriculum. There are frequent face-to-face meetings, event s and opportunities for student-to-student interaction.

VAVA is paid a portion of the appropriation the school division receives from the state according to the MCPS average daily membership, a measure of the number of students enrolled in school.

This prompted board member Glenn Edwards to ask, “if we give you 94.5 percent of our ADM how does that make money for MCPS and how does this compare with the state’s virtual school?” He was told by Stewart that if MCPS pulls in students from Brunswick or other out-of-county students, those student numbers are added to the division’s average daily membership, which translates to additional dollars to the county.

Over time, Stewart said the division can apply for Title 1 funding, just not during the first year. Additionally, Mecklenburg County would receive a portion of the direct payments the state pays for each out-of-county student who enrolls in VAVA locally.

Stewart said Virtual Virginia offers an added educational boon for Mecklenburg County in that it enables the school division to offer a wider variety of classes to its students, particularly those for which they have struggled to find a teacher, such as physics and advanced math classes.

Nichols added that only 38 MCPS students enrolled in Virginia’s virtual learning program by the cutoff date. No new students could enroll for the coming academic year. VAVA was “another online learning option.”

VAVA has existed for 12 years, according to Stewart, and its emphasis is on helping students explore career interests while building a pathway to career and technical education.

Edwards asked the board to forego any decision on whether to enter into a contract with VAVA until he and the other members had more time to study the contract and the VAVA proposal. Edwards said he could not make an informed decision in the four days he had to review the packet of information provided by the school. Wanda Bailey expressed concern that she had not received a copy of their proposed contract.

Trustees agreed to meet again in a week to vote on whether to move forward with the VAVA proposal.

Nichols announced that Mecklenburg Business Education Partnership is again hosting its new teacher dinner after a one-year hiatus. It will take place on Aug. 26 at the Estes Center in Chase City.

Board Chair Gavin Honeycutt thanked Sherry Sheppard, director of human resources, for the work she has put in to fill the many open teaching positions in the school system ahead of the start of the school year.

The school division amended its policies to conform to current law reflecting overtime pay. School employees who work over 40 hours per week will now earn time and a half for the hours worked over 40. Since the average week for most school employees is between 35 and 37 hours, they will continue to earn compensated leave time for any hours worked up to the 40 hours that exceeds their schedule work week.

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There are so many facts in this article about the request made by me for the teachers that are incorrect. Never was there a request for an additional 10 sick days. Teachers don't "bank" their sick days. All employees are allow to accumulate a certain amount of days, just not teachers. I don't know who wrote this article, but the information is incorrect.

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