School employees to receive stipends for COVID-19 work

By Brandon Martin

County school employees are set to receive hazard pay for their work during the coronavirus pandemic, following actions taken by the Henry County School Board on Nov. 5.

Employees will be eligible to receive a one-time stipend up to $1,000 from Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF). The fund, established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, provided the county with $1,220,590 to spend on various items related to the pandemic.

Previous rounds of CARES funding were spent on devices/connectivity, “extra cleaning and all of the things we wanted to do to ensure the safety of our staff and students,” Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer said. The latest funds will be used to pay “a one-time stipend acknowledging the efforts of employees that have been specifically responding to the pandemic, teaching virtually and in-person.”

The stipend will be available to cafeteria workers, bus drivers, teachers, paraprofessionals, and “essentially anyone who is in the building with the students,” Strayer said.

Local funds will also be used to provide a similar stipend for other employees who have experienced an increased workload due to COVID-19, but don’t qualify for the CRF supplement.

Strayer said many of the facility maintenance staff and bus driver mechanics fall in this category.

The school division will pay for the additional stipends using $142,500 from the fiscal year 2021 Instruction Budget.

“That money from the Instruction Budget is money that we haven’t spent this year,” Strayer said. “We haven’t had to travel. We haven’t had field trips. So, there’s no adverse effect to student learning.”

Strayer said she anticipates the stipends to be paid on Nov. 13. She also noted that taxes will be taken from the stipend, so employees shouldn’t expect a full $1,000 check.

Additionally, the board approved $84,298 to be paid to heating and ventilation manufacturer, Trane, for labor and materials needed to install bi-polar ionization devices in various air condition systems. The devices create a plasma field that separates the particles into positive and negative ions, improving indoor air quality while capturing air particles.

“Basically, it’ll help purify the air a little better” and help “break down humidity being brought into the building to prevent any kind of potential mold spores,” said Keith Scott, director of facilities maintenance.

When the plasma field separates the particles, “it creates it into dust” so that custodial staff can simply sweep it up “preventing things like the flu,” according to Scott. “I’m not going to say it’ll get rid of it all, but it helps improve that air.”

Scott said that the ions in buildings can be measured using a meter.

“It’s almost like a rod that goes into the supply ductwork, and when you enter those in and tie it to the electricity, when the fans run, it’ll help break those out,” Scott added. “There’s not a ton of installation involved, but it is a little bit on our end.”

Initially, the devices will be used only in more populated areas, David Scott, assistant superintendent for operations and administrative services, said. Once the effectiveness of the devices has been determined, the division will look to outfit more areas with them.

Keith Scott said the prices range for the individual devices, “depending on how much air is being moved through your unit.” He added the range could be anywhere between $2,000-8,000 per piece of equipment.

In other matters, the board:

*Reviewed the 2021 Legislative Agenda for the school division. Items covered in the agenda are the state budget, the shortage of qualified teachers, equity of opportunity, student and staff emotional support needs, dual enrollment and modernizing the assessment system for students.

*Reviewed the first draft of the 2021-2022 school calendar. Tentatively, the start date for next school year is Aug. 9, 2021, with an end date of May 19, 2021. The calendar will be presented to the board for approval at its Dec. 10 meeting.

*Recognized November as the Virginia School Board Association’s “Take Your Legislator to School Month” and “Family Engagement in Education Month.”

*Recognized Amanda Johnson for receiving the SVRCT Technology Teacher Award; Beth Williamson for receiving the SVRCT Instructional Support Award; and Renee Snodgrass for receiving the SVRCT Technology Support Award.

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