Teton County School District No. 1

A change to a popular teacher benefit has taken a step forward.

At its Sept. 11 meeting the Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees passed, with Trustee Kate Mead opposed, the first read of alterations to its personnel policies that would, among other things, increase the threshold for the district’s sick day buyback program. The policy pays teachers half their daily rate for any sick leave accrued and unused above 50 days.

The proposed change the trustees passed would increase that number to 60 days, which Trustee Keith Gingery said would align the policy with the 12 weeks of leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Board members were quick to point out during the meeting that passing the first read doesn’t equate to adopting the changes.

“Approval on the first read isn’t deciding anything,” Trustee Annie Band said at the meeting.

The sick day buyback is meant to encourage teachers to be in the classroom and use their sick days only for actual illness, rather than for powder days, for instance. Increasing the number of days needed for eligibility in the buyback is ostensibly meant to serve as further incentive, but teachers worry it will affect those who already use their sick days the way district administrators hope.

“By eliminating this buyback the board is effectively choosing to punish those employees who have shown up day in and day out,” Jeff Stines wrote in a letter to the board, “because of allegations that some employees use their sick days inappropriately.”

Stines is a teacher and a representative of the Teton County Education Association, an organization that advocates for teachers. He is working with the superintendent’s advisory committee to talk about the buyback and the associated desire to have teachers in their classrooms more.

That advisory committee includes representatives from most of the schools in the district and departments like transportation. It meets monthly to discuss a wide range of topics, from end-of-year celebrations to employee benefits.

Because the sick day buyback issue is fraught, the district hired consultant Fran VanHouten to facilitate the committee’s process.

“If we bring in as many voices as possible, we’ll find the best solutions,” board Chairwoman Betsy Carlin said. “The facilitator may come up with solutions we didn’t think of.”

Even following the first read, changes to the buyback are not final, Information Coordinator Charlotte Reynolds said. Based on the committee’s discussions and recommendations to the board, trustees could choose to vote on different changes when the policy is brought up for a second reading at the board’s Nov. 6 meeting.

The board will take public comment on the policy via email to schoolboard@tcsd.org until that second reading.

The board’s stated purpose of passing the first read of the policy changes is to begin the process, but Stines, of the educators’ association, said starting the process without the necessary information, including a breakdown of how many sick days are maternity leave, was premature.

“Voting to remove longstanding employee benefits without any quality data supporting the change is problematic to say the least,” he wrote to the board “Until there is some reasonable breakdown and understanding of staff absences it seems inappropriate for our board [to] begin the process.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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