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Board approves covid compensation pay for school employees



FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Most Little Rock School District employees will receive a one-time “covid-19 additional compensation” payment by the end of June as the result of School Board action Thursday night.

The board voted 8-1 in support of the district’s plan to provide an $11-a-day payment for eligible employees in recognition of their extra work during a global pandemic.

The proposal will cost the district an estimated $7.1 million. When fringe benefits are added to that, the total climbs to about $8.74 million.

For most teachers, who have 190-day contracts, the pandemic compensation will amount to $2,090.

One exception to that will be a group of nearly 70 teachers who declined to work on-campus one day last fall Sept. 28 , because of safety concerns. Those teachers will not get the $11 a day for the one missed day — although they did work remotely. Nor will that group of teachers get the $11 for the up to six days they were suspended and docked pay as a penalty for the job action

School Board member Evelyn Callaway questioned Deputy Superintendent Jeremy Owoh and Human Resources Executive Director Robert Robinson about the payments to the previously suspended teachers.

Callaway also questioned whether employees who had to take sick leave days would get the $11 a day for those missed days. She was assured by district leaders that the employees would receive the payment for those days.

Board President Vicki Hatter questioned Owoh and Robinson about language in the district’s payment proposal that exempted “teleworkers” from the special payment. Robinson said there were no more than three employees who would be exempted in an effort for the district to conform to state guidelines on using federal covid-19 relief money to make the payments.

Board member Jeff Wood asked for justification for exempting the telework employees from the payment and suggested that other district funds possibly be used to provide a similar payment to those employees.

Callaway ultimately abstained from the vote on the payment, which counts as a “no” vote. She said she supported employees getting every penny but abstained because “it was not done right” and that board members had lots of questions.

The special payments to the employees — including support staff as well as teachers — are made possible by the federal covid-19 relief funding to the state and district. The Little Rock district is anticipating as much as $90 million from the three rounds of federal funding approved by Congress and Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden in 2020 and earlier this year.

School Board member Ali Noland said that she didn’t think the $11 a day proposal was a perfect system but one that has been endorsed by the state Department of Education and could be distributed relatively soon.

Also Thursday:

• The board approved the employment of Jacqueline McEuen as director of health services. McEuen, who has been a district employee this year, will replace Margo Bushmiaer, who is retiring from the district, in the director’s role.

• Discussed a district proposal to lengthen the instructional day for elementary pupils, which would also lengthen the stated work hours for elementary school teachers from 6.5 hours a day to 7.5 hours. Board members heard objections to that proposal from LaKeitha Austin, chairman of the Personnel Policies Committee, and then asked for additional information from that committee as well as from district leaders.