By Pam Dudding, Contributing Writer
With more mandates being authorized by the Governor, the School Board continues to have to filter through the waters of uncertainty during these times.
School Board members Trace Bellassai (Chairman), Gina Smith (Vice-Chair), George Foster and newest member, Kevin Altizer had many decisions to make at the monthly October School Board meeting. Unable to attend the meeting was Faye Powers.
“I would have never guessed that we would still be in this position with the Covid-19,” shared Superintendent Jeanette Warwick, as she updated the calendar days.
“We have 30 days that were banked in the calendar for weather and other closures,” she said. “We have to use 30 days before we have to start making up days like Christmas or spring break.”
She reminded everyone that remote learning can only be used if meals can be served.
Adding that thus far, six days have been used for, weather, COVID or remote learning days.
“The difficulty for those days was in providing the meals due to a lack of staffing,” she shared.
“We are constantly mindful of these circumstances, but our goal is always to keep our kids in school as we know that they learn best when they are here,” Warwick added.
She continued, “I want to give kudos to the administration, Ms. VanDyke, Ms. Stimeling, Mr. Raines, as they have gotten super creative with coverage and the teachers have been very flexible and they understand what we are up against. That truly shows the dedication of our administration and our staff, as it has not been easy.”
She noted that future plans are in place if there are a number of people out.
“If we have to close, it will be an absolute, that we cannot cover it any way at all,” she said.
It was reported by Warwick that as of the meeting, there had been no Superintendent applications submitted for her position, as she plans to retire in November.
“We have asked for applications by October 22,” she shared.
The position will be posted online with the Roanoke Times and the VSBA will advertise the opening for a fee.
Warwick shared that last year, a Family’s First Coronavirus Response Act of Leave was issued which expired December 31.
“It allowed us to give a certain amount of days for staff members who are either experiencing Covid related absence, caring for a child, recovery related, taking off to get a immunization or having side effects from it would be covered,” Warwick explained. “We have had several staff members who have already used their sick leave due to Covid-related reasons.”
The Board was given the option to continue offering this.
“In the past, we have had a tax credit for this, but its end date was September, therefore there will no longer be a reimbursement,” Warwick said. “We have approximately $70,000 allotted for substitutes and spent $10,000 in August for the two administrators that filled in for Ms. Whiting, which was a higher than substitute pay.”
She also noted that they will continue monitoring monthly, yet it is still up to the Board to decide if they wish to reinstate the FFCRA, extending it through the end of the school year or through the end of December.
Warwick did state that she felt if they tell employees to “stay at home if they have had close contact with someone with covid at the school” that they should be allowed to use the 10-day option – the original CDC suggestion. It was also noted that if one is vaccinated, they are not required to quarantine.
The Board chose to extend the leave option.
Warwick explained that the VISSTA testing program, Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance Program, from the DOE is offering testing.
“Initially, we thought we could only get it for home kits for our staff members. We had no intention to test children or anyone here. However, the DOE came out with the fact that if you will get them for diagnostics, then we have to do the other testings here,” Warwick shared. “We operate on such a shoestring amount of people, and this alone is a full-time job. They explained that there’s money to pay for the position, however, I cannot even get instructional assistance right now. Therefore, we are not recommending this as we do not have the manpower. We did get 60 home kits to save to use for employees.”
The Board agreed with the recommendation.
The next meeting is set for Tuesday, November 9, at 5:30 p.m. in the Auditorium. All citizens are encouraged to attend.