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Kingsport school board approves employee pay during pandemic

Rick Wagner • Apr 1, 2020 at 8:00 AM

KINGSPORT — All Kingsport City Schools (KCS) employees are to be paid during the coronavirus pandemic closure under a plan the school board has authorized Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse to make.

On Tuesday evening in a virtual called meeting via the online platform Zoom, the Board of Education voted 4-0 with one member not signed in to empower Moorhouse to develop a staffing plan for all employees, including hourly ones, to continue to receive paychecks.

Moorhouse said that City Attorney Mike Billingsley determined such a vote was required.

Electronic meetings are allowed under an executive order of Gov. Bill Lee designed to flatten the curve of the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19. The virus prompted officials to close schools across the nation.

“Our intent is for all our employees to stay employed during this pandemic,” Moorhouse said during the meeting, similar to a called Sullivan County school board meeting last Thursday on the same issue.

Moorhouse said the move to keep all employed could affect the school system budget, based how emergency federal funding for school nutrition services will be allocated.

“Anytime money is involved, the board has to approve,” BOE President Carrie Upshaw said.

Upshaw and members Jim Welch, Julie Byers and Todd Golden voted yes, while Vice President Eric Hyche was not online during the 14-minute meeting. 

“We still don’t have complete guidance in place,” Moorhouse said of potential future policies, procedures and resolutions on the matter.

A video of the meeting is playable on the KCS Facebook page at facebook.com/KptSchools?ref=hl, and meeting notes are available online at k12k.com/.

HOW IS THE FEEDING PROGRAM DOING?

The school system and others in the region through U.S. Department of Agriculture rules have been providing free meals to anyone 18 or younger, regardless or residency or enrollment. Moorhouse said the system served almost 5,000 meals in drive-by pickups and in bus deliveries Tuesday. 

Sullivan County Director of Schools David Cox Tuesday said that system distributed about 7,000 meals Monday, which represents three days of breakfasts and lunches at five county schools and some delivered by volunteers, with plans coming for bus delivery to some bus stops. The county system distributes six more meals per child Thursday. Both systems combined meals into one distribution a day rather than separate breakfast and lunch distributions.

ARE CUSTODIANS FORCED TO WORK EVERY DAY IN SCHOOLS?

KCS board member Julie Byers questioned why draft procedural language from the Tennessee School Boards Association said that as essential employees, custodians had to work unless granted leave by human resources. Moorhouse responded that this requirement would be rolled back at some point to allow those employees to work remotely or at home, possibly doing professional development or other activities. The draft procedure says that nutrition employees can be considered essential.

“Putting them at risk every day just didn’t seem like it made sense,” Byers said. 

Moorhouse said custodial or food service employees would be in groups of less than 10 and practice social distancing.

WHAT ELSE DID THE BOARD DO?

In other action, the voted voted 4-0 with one absent to approve using the remaining seven stockpiled or “banked” days in addition to the four already approved for emergency closures. The banked days come from extending each school day 30 minutes. Of the days, two were for professional development and two days for flu and other illness.

The General Assembly has given all school systems the ability to get a blanket waiver of having the equivalent of 180 days attendance, and it has waived standardized testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year.

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