The act requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or extended family medical leave for specific reasons related to COVID-19. If Congress does not extend those benefits, district administrators are considering a local option to support teachers and substitutes in the district.
“We would look at bringing a resolution to the board to extend our own [benefits] in January," said Lauren Wurman, CISD executive director of personnel services. "Many districts around us have already brought resolutions to their boards."
The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused a reduced number of substitute teachers available in the district, a trend spotted nationwide, according to Matt Miller, assistant superintendent for administrative services. Wurman said the district hopes to see an increase in available substitutes in the near future.
“During the months of October and November we did have a significant increase in employee absences due to COVID-19, sometimes as many as eight times more absences in a given month than we did the previous month,” Wurman said.
Due to many classes not having substitutes, Wurman said the district found that teachers were giving up designated "teaming time" to instead help cover unfilled classes. That time is usually allocated to teachers for grade-level and instructional planning, she said.
As a result, the district implemented the CISD Emergency Teacher Expenditure Plan, allowing teachers to earn extra pay for covering unfilled classes during those times. The plan went into effect Nov. 12 and pay comes from the general substitute budget.
“Since we have put this plan into place, we have had many more classes covered by our teachers during the teaching time, which helps bring that consistency to our students whenever their teacher has to be out,” Wurman said.
The district has spent more than $160,000 on absences under the FFCRA, not including substitute costs. The district currently has 305 active substitute teachers, with 108 of them having completed orientation during the fall semester.
According to Wurman, the district currently benefits from a tax credit for salaries of employees working from home, whose salaries are being sustained due to COVID-19-related absences.
So far, over 300 district employees have been absent due to COVID-19, and 157 of those employees have taken leave under the FFCRA due to the need to quarantine, a COVID-19 positive test result or issues with child care.
“We even have dedicated teachers, who are working mothers, sick with COVID-19, Zooming into their class to make sure that their kids are taken care of,” Wurman said.
As the first half of the school year comes to a close, administrators are expecting a need for funds to continue supporting pay for teachers working from home or for those who have taken leave under the FFCRA.
Wurman said it would cost the district approximately $250,000 next semester to keep teacher salaries in place, which does not include substitute teacher costs.
“Even when we have a teacher who is working from home and Zooming into the class, we still need somebody in that classroom to make sure that they are monitoring the students and answering any questions,” she said.
The district’s substitute budget was set at $550,000, but Wurman said the district expects to fall short between $100,000-$150,000 due to additional expenses.
Those expenses include FFCRA payments, substitute teacher pay and other accommodations for employees related to COVID-19.