In a discussion over teacher benefits at Thursday’s school board meeting, Michelle Rooks took issue with what she called an “urban myth.”
For several months, the Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees has been considering changes to the district’s sick day buyback program. Currently, the district pays staff half their daily rate for any sick days accumulated over 50 at the end of the school year.
Staff are given 12 paid leave days a year (two personal and 10 sick days), meaning the buyback program wouldn’t kick in — at the earliest — until a staff member’s fifth year. The intent, administrators say, is to incentivize teachers to not use their sick days.
Superintendent Gillian Chapman raised concerns at Thursday’s meeting about teachers who worry they aren’t going to accumulate enough days to realize the benefit and think, “I might as well take a day and go ski, or take a long weekend.”
Rooks, a language arts teacher at Jackson Hole Middle School, took issue with the implication educators are shirking their responsibilities.
“I really think language matters,” she told the board, “and I think this idea that if I have [used] two sick days I’m suddenly going to go skiing, I don’t think that’s fair.”
Chapman presented a change that would instate a three-tiered incentive program (see sidebar).
Teton County Education Association representatives Jim Rooks and Jeff Stines asked that teachers be given more time to review the changes to the buyback. The district released the proposed changes Friday afternoon, giving teachers less than a week to review them.
Trustees Kate Mead and Annie Band were absent from the meeting, and Chairwoman Betsy Carlin said she wanted the full board present.
“It’s rare that we are not all sitting up here,” she said. “Their perspective, whatever that would be — and I have no idea what that is — it would help me make the best decision.”
Data from the 2018-19 school year shows that of the 3,502.39 sick days used by all district staff, 942.5 were for Family and Medical Leave Act-approved reasons and 318.47 were due to staff being stranded by Teton Pass or Snake River Canyon closures, leaving 2,241.42 sick days used for other reasons.
In the 2018-19 school year the district’s 530 employees used 4.23 sick days on average — roughly one-third of their allotted paid leave — excluding the two aforementioned reasons. Because the district has a 77% fill rate on substitutes, the board hopes to lower that number and have fewer days administrators must find substitute teachers.
Trustees and administrators hope the new spate of incentives will convince teachers who use sick days for other purposes — if that is a widespread problem — to use fewer days.
But not all trustees were convinced the incentives should be necessary.
“Well, hell, you get a paycheck to be in the classroom,” Trustee Bill Scarlett said. “Incentivizing teachers to be in the classroom, that should be your paycheck. That’s what it was in my industry.”