School workers worry about paychecks

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Amidst shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 crisis, school districts are being forced to make tough decisions about payments to by-the-hour and contract workers.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered public schools to close until April 13, and while teachers are guaranteed salaries through their contracts, those protections don’t apply to everyone employed by Michigan schools.

Jennifer Smith, the director of government relations at the Michigan Association of School Boards, said each district decides whether to continue to pay hourly employees. 

“Each district is handling it differently. It depends on what they can afford to do. With no certainty from the state as far as how many days will or won’t be waived, how many days we’ll have to make up in June, that makes cash flows a little tricky,” Smith said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Rice has said school closure days won’t count as part of the state-required 180-day calendar.

Employees of private companies that provide bus transportation, janitorial services and food services in many communities don’t work directly for school districts.

Despite concerns about funding, many districts are working to honor commitments made to hourly employees.

For example, Jim Farmer, the human resources director for the Delta County School District, said his district intends to continue paying staff. 

 Employees with long-term and pre-arranged leave plans won’t have that leave deducted, he said. Substitute teachers will be paid for pre-scheduled dates, and day-to-day substitutes will receive 50% of what they would have made on average.

Spring coaches on contract will receive their benefits, while custodial and maintenance staff will be paid their full rate while working a reduced schedule, Farmer said.

All certified staff are expected to be on-call or working for a portion of the days contracted, but that varies by their role and what they’re capable of doing, he said.

Superintendent Daniel O’Connor of Alcona Community Schools says while it continues to pay hourly workers under local contracts, it’s no longer paying contractors during this period.

Alcona Community Schools contracts with a private company, Professional Contract Management Inc., for substitute teachers.

With each district working to determine its plans for paying employees, administrators are concerned about how the pandemic will affect the budget for the remainder of the year.

Smith said, “Without knowing what our school year is going to look like, without having any certainty on that, it’s hard to know how much money we have in our budget.”

“If we have to go back and make all these days up in June, we will have to [incur] all these costs again, and districts can’t really afford that,” she said.

Alcona’s O’Connor said, “It has been a stressful time for all involved. Hourly employees are worried about what will happen after April 13 as some or all of their work may not be needed if we are closed for a longer stretch. 

“Clear guidance from the state on the future of school closure, forgiveness of days and educational programming would be beneficial so that we are able to plan for the future,” he said. 

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