A furlough clause has been added to Halifax County School System employees’ contracts.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Lineburg informed Halifax County School Board members of the change when they met Monday evening, but also told the board it is a “last resort option.”
He emphasized that it could be used “if the wheels fell off,” and “we ended up in a depression.”
It also will be solely up to the discretion of the school board. Lineburg said he could recommend to the board if finances were worse off, but the ultimate decision would fall back to the board.
The superintendent also said a policy was not necessary because it was included in the contracts.
Using language recommended by the school board attorney, Lineburg said the clauses are worded different for each type of contract: continuing contract teachers, probationary teachers and non-exempt employees.
For teachers, he said the school system is only allowed to temporarily lay them off for up to 20 days, but they’re looking at a maximum of six days.
He explained that they’re currently mulling over a school year calendar that would have teachers return on Aug. 17 giving them 14 professional development days for training before a Sept. 8 start date for students.
If the school board decides to use furlough days for teachers, Lineburg explained they would decide then on the number of days.
He also said it would more likely be used in the spring.
In explaining more about furlough days he said, it is a “temporary layoff of employees for a brief time” that “is not a termination” and “does not have a negative impact on benefits.
“You keep your benefits,” he reiterated.
He also noted that for employees in the Virginia Retirement System, he said, “their high salary still remains intact.”
Furlough days also could be different for “non-exempt employees,” or support staff, such as bus drivers or paraprofessionals.
The superintendent said if the school system remains in Phase Two or reverts back to Phase One, there might not be jobs for some employees.
“If we don’t have a job, then they go through a furlough situation,” said Lineburg.
He also said, “You keep your benefits. You do not lose your job. After five days, then you have unemployment benefit…that may adjust under new legislation.”
Under current legislation, he said, employees can receive unemployment benefits after being off for five days. The school board attorney told him he did not anticipate that ever increasing, but he said that number could decrease.
ED-7 trustee Keith McDowell asked why employees such as transportation maintenance employees and custodians have different types of contracts.
The superintendent said, “Much of that is dictated by the Code of Virginia” and also said some prefer having a “continuing contract status” while some do not.
He said some do not have “hourly protection” which results in a different type of contract.
McDowell also asked if employees would be able to use sick leave rather than furlough days.
Lineburg said they would not if the school board chose to use furlough days.
The ED-7 trustee also asked what happens if a job position is no longer needed, and the employee has built up unused sick leave days.
The superintendent explained they would receive a pay out of $25 a day per sick leave accumulated with a maximum of $5,000.
In the end, he said he does anticipate the school board having to go this route, but wanted them to have the option.
Lineburg also said, “Teachers and administrators are less likely to be furloughed because you have to have 180 instructional days.”
The proposed school calendar for the 2020-2021 school year is expected to be presented to the school board at its July meeting.
In looking at their funding, Lineburg reminded the school board they currently have $276,000 in reserves and 15 vacancies due to being on a hiring freeze.
He also said, “If it got really, really bad,” the school system carried over roughly $2 million with approximately $931,700 used for capital improvement projects as agreed upon with the school board and the Halifax County Board of Supervisors.
“But, if times were that bad… I would expect us to ask the board of supervisors to change policy due to extenuating circumstances. I would not mind having to ask that,” said Lineburg.
“I think we have several safeguards,” he noted.
In other action, the board unanimously agreed to pay the final payment of bills for the current fiscal year and set Aug. 14 for a school board retreat.
Vice chairman Sandra Garner Coleman asked if funding was still in alignment with that $2 million carryover funds, and finance director Robert Aylor said it is.
Lineburg said they are “ready to execute” the capital improvement plan.