At the Feb. 2 work session of the Dawson County Board of Education, board members discussed an extension of sick leave for teachers with COVID-19 and funding that comes from ESPLOST VI and the CARES Act II.
In a presentation to the board, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Operations Hershel Bennett explained that the school system will be extending COVID-19 sick leave by 10 days per employee through the end of March.
According to Bennett, in the fall 2020 semester all employees were allowed up to 10 days of COVID-19 sick leave through federal funding. Following the expiration of the federal program on Dec. 31, 2020, the school system decided to extend the sick days.
“Last semester the federal government granted emergency paid sick leave for COVID for up to six reasons and this semester, congress has extended the tax break through March 31,” Bennett said. “But since we don’t pay federal taxes there is no tax break for our school system so we’re asking to extend COVID leave though March 31 for our employees for 10 days, if they did not use it first semester.”
Sick leave for COVID-19 leave days may be used for one of three reasons, Bennett said, if the employee is required to quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 diagnosis or due to close contact with someone with the virus, if the employee has been told by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine because of concerns related to COVID-19, or if the employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is in the process of seeking a medical diagnosis.
Bennett said that in the Fall 2020 semester, 103 teachers used at least part of their 10 allotted days and 18 used their entire allotment.
According to Superintendent Damon Gibbs, the reason the school system decided to extend the sick leave was to help cover for teachers who may still get the virus.
“People can’t choose if they get COVID and they can’t choose when they get sick, so if we have an employee in February that gets sick with COVID and needs to be out on leave it’s the right thing to do,” Gibbs said. “And the CARES funds in that second set is $1.65 million, so we’ll have those funds in there to cover that.”
Bennett said that most but not all of the schools in the state are extending COVID leave for their teachers.
“From looking at it, about 75 percent of the state is going to extend it to March 31, about 20 percent has already extended it to June, and about 5 percent has given employees no additional COVID leave,” Bennett said.
Gibbs said that the COVID leave days will be extended through the end of March, and if the board decides another extension is needed they’ll ask for it then.
Funding sources discussed
Board members also heard financial updates from Chief Financial Officer Jamie Ulrich, including information about CARES Act II funding and ESPLOST VI funding.
“The CARES fund, we have that budgeted in a different fund than the general fund,” Ulrich said.
“We did get notification that there is a second distribution of funds that will be available for us, in the tune of $1.6 million of CARES funds, so we have to work on budgeting that and get that ready to go.”
Ulrich also reported on Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) funding, which according to both Ulrich and Gibbs is the largest ESPLOST amount the school system has ever collected.
“This is the third month and this, as far as I know, is the record that we have ever received in collection at $1,154,000,” Ulrich said.
According to Gibbs, the school system was expecting a large number for this ESPLOST collection.
“We anticipated that number based on previous months’ collections and it’s $88,000 over last year; it’s the largest ESPLOST collection that we’ve ever made,” Gibbs said.