A Forsyth County Schools leader told the Board of Education during its work session Tuesday that the district used funds usually set aside for substitutes to provide further paid COVID-19 leave for employees, which will end after March 31.
Dr. Cindy Salloum, associate superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services, presented to the board, reminding them that the 10 days of COVID-19 leave originally granted to each employee by the federal government ended after Dec. 31. FCS, however, continued to provide this leave to its staff members.
“As we’ve worked with COVID, we’ve kept [safety and financial planning] in mind as well as the social-emotional impact that this has had on everybody,” Salloum said.
The district has funded the continued leave through extra funds originally budgeted for substitute teachers and bus drivers. Salloum said the district allocates about $4 million in substitute teacher costs every year, and last school year, the district was on track to go over budget before the pandemic forced schools to close in the spring.
During that fourth quarter, the district did not spend anything on substitute teacher costs. This year, the system has only spent about 36% of its budget on substitutes so far.
“We have greatly reduced, from about last March until the present day, our substitute teacher funds,” Salloum said.
While the district has reported significant staff absences due to the pandemic, these substitute costs were cut down because of reduced transportation substitutes due to fewer out-of-school trips and development programs, and Salloum explained fill rates among absent staff have been lower.
“For example, if we had a virtual teacher that could pick up another virtual class, they did that instead of hiring a substitute because quite frankly, we haven’t had as many substitutes this year,” Salloum said.
Teachers who had to quarantine or self-isolate at home were also able to teach classes virtually if they felt up to it.
Due to the drop in costs, the district was able to use the extra funds budgeted for substitutes to pay for the COVID-19 leave for staff instead of using funds the district received as part of the CARES Act. Salloum said they received $1.5 million last spring and nearly $5.2 million this year in CARES funding.
Although the district had extended the COVID-19 leave for staff, it will only be available to staff through March 31. Salloum noted that staff members will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations before that time.
COVID-19 vaccine clinics will be held for staff on Saturday, March 13, at Browns Bridge Church and the Forsyth Conference Center.
Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden said during the meeting that 2,300 staff members have already registered to receive a Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Saturday. As of press time, There were about 1,800 appointment slots available, “so we still have some staff members trying to decide whether or not they want that vaccine or a different vaccine or maybe no vaccine at all.”