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Little Rock School District proposes virus-shot incentive

Leaders recommend to board up to $300 for all fully vaccinated employees by Cynthia Howell | July 20, 2021 at 7:04 a.m.
FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo.

Little Rock School District leaders are recommending an incentive of as much as $300 for all school system employees who are fully vaccinated against the covid-19 virus by Oct. 1.

The district's School Board is scheduled to act on the proposed employee incentive as well as a proposed covid-19 employee leave policy at a meeting Thursday.

During the same meeting, the board will get a first look at a plan to raise the beginning teacher salary from the current $36,000 to $43,000 this school year and $48,000 by 2023-24.

The nine-member board will meet at 5:30 p.m. at the district's administration building, 810 W. Markham St., Little Rock.

The district board meetings are broadcast on YouTube: www.lrsdlive.com. The district also livestreams its meetings on LRSDTV.org, and broadcasts them on Comcast Channel 4 and U-verse Channel 99.

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"The recent surge in covid-19 cases as a result of the delta variant has led the LRSD to consider reinstating covid-19 sick leave," district administrators have written to the School Board. "Additionally, LRSD would like to encourage all employees to get vaccinated against covid-19 because recent data indicates that most individuals who are infected that suffer severe illness, hospitalization and death are unvaccinated."

Pamela Smith, a spokeswoman for the district, said Monday that about 70% of the district's more than 3,000 employees have been vaccinated.

Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association, a union of district employees, welcomed the possible incentive.

"LREA supports anything that will help keep our students and educators safe from covid-19," Gordon said. "Our elementary school students and educators are especially vulnerable going into the new school year because vaccinations are not yet available for those students."

The School Board agenda for Thursday's meeting -- released Monday -- recommends a $200 incentive. But Superintendent Mike Poore said Monday afternoon that the amount should be amended to $300. Taxes and fringe benefit costs would be subtracted from the $300, Poore said.

The incentive will be discussed with the members of the certified and classified Personnel Policies Committees and subject to votes of those committees before the School Board meeting.

The vaccine incentive, if approved by the School Board, would apply to those among the district's staff of more than 3,000 employees who can provide proof of being fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. Employees would also be entitled to paid time off for acquiring the vaccinations and for any time needed to recover from the shots.

The district would use federal covid-19 relief money to pay for the incentive -- estimated early on at $620,000. The federal money would also cover the cost for covid-19-related sick leave.

The 21,000-student district has access to almost $100 million in the special funding that was approved by federal lawmakers in three rounds in 2020 and 2021.

SICK-LEAVE POLICY

The proposed covid sick-leave policy -- with its estimated cost of about $1 million retroactive to July 1 and going through Dec. 17 -- is similar to the covid-19 sick-leave policy used January through June this year but which expired July 1.

If approved by the School Board, a revised resolution on covid-19 leave would provide 10 days or 80 hours to full time employees who are unable to work or telework because the employee has been directed to quarantine, has or may have covid-19, or is caring for a spouse, child or parent who has been directed to quarantine due to the virus.

The proposal includes provisions on how the covid-19 sick leave pay can be acquired and used without the employees having to draw on regular sick leave or take unpaid leave.

The proposal also includes a "good faith" clause that states that an employee who is not following best practices to minimize transmission of the virus while at work or otherwise violating directives and recommendations for quarantine could be denied the use of covid-19 sick leave and have to use traditional sick-leave time or take unpaid leave.

Those who are able to work from their homes will not be charged with covid-19 or traditional leave time, according to the proposal.

THREE-YEAR PLAN

The School Board on Thursday will review a proposal for increasing salaries for employees -- including teachers -- over three years but will not vote on the compensation plan before August.

For teachers who work 9¼ months a year, the draft plan calls for a starting salary this school year of $43,000 for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience. The plan provides a 2% step increase for each teacher's additional year of work experience and a 2.5% increase for acquisition of additional college credit hours toward master's or doctorate degrees.

The starting salary for teachers would increase to $45,000 in the 2022-23 school year and $48,000 in the 2023-24 school year -- all with accompanying increases in the schedule for teacher experience and additional education.

"In the interest of full transparency and with a goal of collaboration, we must disclose what must occur during the 2021-22 school year in order for these goals to be met," the district proposal to the School Board states.

"The district will have to 'right-size.' This means that under-enrolled schools will be closed as it is not fiscally responsible for those schools to continue to operate. Additionally, positions will be reduced across the district, from administration to the school level, as current staffing levels are not sustainable as we continue to lose enrollment."

School closures will be based on analyses of enrollment and population data with community input, the proposal says. District policies must be streamlined and new students actively recruited.

TAX ELECTION

"A millage or debt extension must be passed in the 2021-22 school year with a clear, transparent plan for how the money will be spent," the proposal states.

Board members on Thursday are to continue an ongoing discussion about a possible election this year on extending the levy of 12.4 debt service mills by about 18 years as a way to generate money for construction projects.

Print Headline: Little Rock School District proposes virus-shot incentive

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