All Sullivan school employees, non-contract bus drivers to be paid during COVID-19 closure

Rick Wagner • Mar 26, 2020 at 9:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s Board of Education has approved two draft policy changes and a draft procedure to make it crystal clear that every employee and worker of the school system is to be paid during the coronavirus or COVID-19 shutdown. That is regardless of whether they are part-time or full-time, although privately contracted bus drivers may or may not be.

The school board in a called meeting Thursday voted 7-0 to suspend the rules and approve the changes on first reading. The BOE then voted 7-0 to adopt three documents recommended by the Tennessee School Boards Association that are expected to garner formal approval soon from the state Comptroller of the Treasury. The actions also would make the system eligible for federal aid pending in Congress.

Board member Matthew Spivey pointed out during the meeting that aside from being the right thing to do, voting to pay all employees would make the school system eligible for federal aid in pending legislation.

He said the proposal, not yet enacted, would give federal help to school systems contingent on state and local governments not cutting funding levels any lower than that of the past three years, even if average daily membership or average daily attendance went down. That is to prevent state or local funding bodies from using the federal funding to supplant state and local funding, Spivey said.

Director of Schools David Cox said that the contract with bus contractors calls for payments of half the normal amount when schools are out for weather or other emergencies, including a pandemic. He said those private companies can choose whether to pay bus drivers; otherwise, the drivers would apply for unemployment.


However, before passage the board voted to amend one of the TSBA-recommended draft policies to make it crystal clear that all employees were covered. The old board policy covered pay only for closures in “extraordinary conditions” caused by inclement weather, not a pandemic, and specifically covering only those working less than 40 hours a week.

“I know all of our employees out there will be thankful,” Chairman Michael Hughes said at the end of the almost 40-minute meeting, held virtually with some members and other officials at the school board chambers in Blountville and others at their homes. “Everyone is going to be paid.”

Among those in the meeting room were Hughes; Vice Chairman Randall Jones, who serves on the Policy Committee; member Jane Thomas; BOE Attorney Pat Hull; and central office staff. Attending remotely, as allowed by executive order of Gov. Bill Lee, were board members Randall Gilmore, Paul Robinson, Mark Ireson, and Spivey. Director of Schools David Cox also attended remotely and is in a self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from Maryland this past weekend. 

Ireson made the motion for approval, seconded by Spivey. The three actions are:

 — A policy to empower the director or superintendent to pay all employees whether they work or not during a closure but to designate certain employees as essential to keep working. Language proposed by Jones added to the emergency closings policy saying all hourly, school-based and systemwide employees were to be paid during a closure. (Teachers and central office staff are paid during closures through annual contracts.)

 — A policy that allows the director to require employees to “telework” or work from home if needed

 — And a procedural matter of mandatory designation of custodial staff as essential when closures are because of quarantine efforts and that food service workers may be deemed essential. Leave would be presented to the human resources supervisor.


“I didn’t see them until a few minutes ago,” Hull said of the three TSBA-recommendations from the TSBA’s Ben Torres he forwarded via email to board members shortly before the meeting. “It’s a last-second thing for all of us.”

Torres is assistant executive director and general counsel for TSBA.

“They (TSBA officials) are seeking the approval of the comptroller’s office, but they don’t have it yet,” Hull said of the three proposals. Hughes said if further action is needed, the board would meet as soon as possibly to rectify it. Hull said it is possible the comptroller could “gig” the school system over language it did not like.

“As long as we’re doing it for the right reason, I’m willing to take a hit on that,” Ireson said.

Before the vote, the only official business of the called meeting, the board also decided by consensus to reschedule its work session and regular meeting from April 2 to April 9, with the work session at 4 p.m. and the meeting at 5 p.m. at the suggestion of Robinson. 


The site administrator has disabled comments for this story.
Kingsport Times News Videos