On Sept. 26, the Orange County Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to approve providing a stipend for certified or licensed staff at Orange County Schools for providing instruction during one or more of their planning periods.
The proposal was presented by OCS Chief Finance Officer Rhonda Rath.
With the passage, staff will be paid $40 per day for planning, grading and providing instruction during a planning period as a result of staff shortages.
The funds for the stipends will come from unused salary money from the district's 16 vacancies in core instruction across all schools.
“I also want to thank you for this, and I love the idea of funding with lapse salaries, very creative,” board member Bonnie Hauser said to Rath at the meeting.
When the plan to compensate teachers was first introduced to the board last year, the rate would have been $60 per day, but it has since been reduced, according to Rath. Over the last 16 months, the lapse salaries have accumulated to approximately $80,000.
These vacancies provide the funds necessary to pay stipends but are also the reason staff are being asked to teach during their intended planning periods.
“I’m hearing you loud and clear that we don’t want our teachers giving up their planning time in order to teach,” Hauser said.
The stipend system for staff teaching during their planning periods first began during the COVID-19 pandemic to accommodate the increasing number of absences and quarantines in the district. It was discontinued following the lifting of the state of emergency issued by Gov. Roy Cooper, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxing their quarantine requirements.
Rath said the stipend system should not be a default solution for school administrators and they should still use other sources such as long-term substitutes, daily substitutes and other additional personnel rather than teachers.
“Our teachers have asked us to protect their planning periods,” Rath said. “They have shared with us that that is very valuable time for them and for us to do what we can to protect that for them.”
OCS Board member Sarah Smylie expressed concerns at the meeting that this new stipend system might lead to less consistent coverage of classrooms for students. She said different teachers may work as substitutes for one teacher's absence rather than one teacher working as a substitute.
"That might not be as good for student learning as sort of a consistent person across the week," Smylie said.
Smylie said having multiple teachers cover the absence might not be as good for student learning as having one person consistently fill in.
In response to Smylie, Joyce Hatcher, Chief Human Resources Officer for Orange County Schools, said that while there is something to be said for consistency, there are other dynamics and situations going on in a school, and that the "ideal" doesn’t always pan out.
Hauser and Will Atherton, the board's chair, both said they are concerned about the stipend being $40 per day regardless of whether staff have to cover more than one planning period each day.
“I don’t want to set a rule here at the Board saying we’re only going to do one (payout) a day,” said Hauser. “I’d like to make it a little bit more flexible and let you all manage it.”
Rath said at the meeting that it is her recommendation that the stipends are to begin on Nov. 30, for funding purposes and various other reasons.
“We want to honor our teachers, honor what they’re giving up, what they’re helping us with, but we also want to do what we can to protect their time, to be able to plan and to have that time,” Rath said.
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