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Liberty County Board of Education talks COVID sick leave
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Paid sick leave for educators who are stricken or exposed to COVID was a topic of discussion at yesterday morning’s Board of Education Workshop. The topic was placed on the agenda at the request of District 2 board member Marcus Scott IV.

Liberty County School System Director of Human Resources Michele Dasher said that currently there is no federal or state law that requires the district to offer paid sick leave for those who are sick with COVID, who have been exposed to someone with COVID, or who are caring for someone with COVID. She said under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), beginning April 1, 2020, the district was required to provide eligible employees up to 10 days of paid sick leave for COVID. But the FFCRA-Emergency Paid Sick Leave expired Dec. 31, 2020, at which time the FFCRA allowed employers to continue the leave on a voluntary basis for a tax credit. Dasher said that even though the district was not eligible for the tax credit, the LCSS recognized the importance to voluntarily continue to offer the COVID leave for all covered employees.

Another version of the paid leave for COVID was extended through the American Rescue Plan Act and expired Sept. 30, 2021. Dasher said the LCSS continued the voluntary leave through Dec. 31, 2021.

Dasher reported that from Jan. 1, 2021, until Sept. 30, 2021, the cost for lost time due to COVID leave was approximately $433,733.63. From Jan. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021, the LCSS has paid approximately $1.1 million for all substitutes. Dasher explained if the LCSS continues to offer paid COVID leave for 10 days through the end of the school year, June 30, 2022, the LCSS could incur an additional lost time cost of approximately $3.3 million. This estimate would be if every staff member did use their 10 days off.

Dasher reported all fulltime staff earn 1.25 days of sick leave per working month. Leave can be accumulated and rolled over each year, up to 45 days maximum. Dasher explained that due to federal guidelines not requiring the district to provide COVID leave and because staff are able to earn paid sick leave, the LCSS ended paid COVID leave on Dec. 31, 2021.

Scott thanked the BOE for placing this topic on the agenda, adding further discussion should take place. He said he understood both sides of the situation but wanted to address that there are educators who are concerned about not receiving COVID paid sick leave. LCSS Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry said his concern would be folks who may abuse the paid sick leave. He said the district was being consistent with the districts around them. He said the amount of time staff earn for paid sick leave should be sufficient.

The BOE also reviewed a proposed budget amendment for the fiscal year 2022 budget. Under the amended budget, LCSS Chief Financial Officer Stephanie Clark said some funds were not included in the original budget, and to be compliant with Senate Bill 68, for transparency, they needed to review the budget amendment. Clark reported there was a need to increase the fund 100 account by $621,476 to cover the funds for salaries, substitutes, on-call maintenance salaries and bus driver attendance incentives and field trip pay increases previously approved. They also need to increase the federal funds account by $1,788,469. Clark said the LCSS was awarded additional funding and/ or carryover funds. Federal funds balance to zero. She said the LCSS does not anticipate spending all awarded federal funds in FY 2022. The budget was also increased in the school nutrition account by $650,000 to update cafeteria furniture. The budget for the capital projects fund was increased by $720,000 for security cameras in the classrooms ($540,000) and a solar grant project ($180,000). Clark said the LCSS was awarded grant but must forward fund project.

Clark and the BOE then reviewed the proposed budget calendar for fiscal year 2023. LCSS Chief Operations Officer Arnold Jackson reported that during the last three years, over 70 different Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) projects have been completed. These projects included interior renovations and upgrading life safety systems, HVAC, lighting and building security systems. These upgrades have reduced maintenance, operational/ utility costs and improved the overall health and safety for students and teachers. ESPLOST interior projects at various schools cost $11,167,783. ESPLOST also covered several athletic renovation projects for a cost of $10,527,540. ESPLOST funded the upgrading of interior lighting at several schools for a cost of $650,531 and the upgrades to school message signs at a cost of $943,603. Jackson also covered several other projects that have been completed and funded by ESPLOST. Board member James Johns Jr. recommended the district make these ESPLOST-funded projects known to the public so they could see how the special tax fund is being utilized and needed by the LCSS.

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