ELLSWORTH — Teachers, administrative assistants and school nurses will find some relief from the continuing strain and extra hours required while working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The School Board on Tuesday unanimously approved two memorandums of understanding, one with Ellsworth Educational Healthcare and Office Professionals and one with the Ellsworth Educational Association, the unions that represent the two professional groups.
The MOUs include extra pay and guidelines on remote days. The additional pay will come from ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds, federal money distributed to schools for COVID-19-related expenses.
Both agreements were reached outside of the contracts drawn up through collective bargaining, through the two unions and Chairwoman Kelly McKenney and Paul Markosian, who serve on the board’s Personnel Committee.
“It was a very collaborative effort,” Markosian said prior to the votes of approval. “There’s a lot of trust on both sides of the table.”
Teachers will receive an additional $6,000 “due to the additional duties performed by all staff members due to COVID-19,” the MOU reads, “with $1,000 paid [in] the payroll immediately following approval of the parties and $5,000 distributed equally over the balance of the school year’s payroll periods.”
The MOU includes a Jan. 28, 2022, review of the “circumstances related to this item and the overall MOU.”
The MOU also outlines a 9 a.m. start to the school day on remote learning days and how and when teachers can access their classrooms on those days.
For administrative assistants and nurses, their MOU provides full compensation for approved overtime worked, whether in schools or at home, and an additional $150 added to their biweekly payrolls “until additional temporary personnel is in place or when additional COVID-related duties are no longer an issue.” This additional pay is retroactive to Sept. 1, 2021, when the school year began. Like teachers, a 9 a.m. start time on remote learning days is also included in the MOU.
In other business, the board approved, in a 3-2 vote, extending the upcoming holiday vacation by 1.5 days, citing teacher and student burnout and mental health needs. School will be a half day on Tuesday, Dec. 21, and will be closed on Wednesday, Dec. 22. Originally, vacation was scheduled to begin on Thursday, Dec. 23.
Markosian and Elizabeth Alteri voted against the measure, concerned over the effect on working parents and, as Markosian noted, on some students.
“We also have to recognize that being in school has been stressful for some students and staff,” he said. “It’s also been a lifeline for many of our students.”