One Washington County Board of Education member urged compassion Thursday night for hundreds of employees who lost more than a third of their pay last month because of snow days called by the district.
Board member David Hammond called for quick approval of a measure to pay the system’s employees earning hourly wages — instructional aides, custodians and food service workers — for the eight days missed in January, but the board ultimately decided there were too many unknowns to rush the plan.
“You try and open school without the cafeteria personnel, you try and hold it without the IAs,” Hammond said, revisiting a discussion held earlier during the board’s Finance Committee meeting. “One guy’s wife brought $44 home this month. Both he and his wife work for the school system.
“These people make this school system work just as much as the teachers, in my opinion, and I have a high respect for teachers. We know the right thing to do,” he added.
But the problem lay with the different sources of funding from which the employees are paid, District Finance Director Beverly Thomas told the board.
It’s been the system’s policy for more than a decade to pay instructional aides and custodians for half of the days missed for inclement weather, she said, and the district would not have trouble paying them, because their full pay was already budgeted.
But the food service budget only receives revenues from the sale of school lunches and federal reimbursements for free and reduced lunches, and fewer students have been buying school lunch of late, draining the budget’s money in reserves.
Thomas said a recent audit of the system’s finances showed the food service reserve fund was dangerously low, and it’s unclear if School Nutrition Supervisor Ann Thompson could afford to pay the 100 employees for the missed days.
“With the changes in the food service program that the president has made, the students just aren’t eating like they used to, so she’s not generating the funds that she once did,” Thomas said. “We’re going to talk with her, we’re going to talk to our auditors and get the feel of what they think we can do.”
Under protestation from Hammond, who said employees’ rent and utility bills were still due this month, regardless of whether they received pay or not, the board voted 8-1 to send the problem back to the Finance Committee, instructing the body to explore options and make a recommendation to the full board Feb. 25.
“We don’t want to be audited and have them say that it’s wrong,” member Clarence Mabe said. “We need to make sure that whatever we do is done right.”