BOE approves bonus to attract math instructors, discusses revisions to employee compensation policy

BUCKHANNON – Several changes will likely be made to a recently revised Upshur County Schools policy dealing with salaries and other compensation prior to Upshur County Board of Education members voting on it.

Discussions among BOE members and comments received from educators and the public regarding proposed changes to Policy 8006 – which deals with salary schedules and other compensations including supplements – took up much of Wednesday’s BOE meeting.

The dialogue at the July 7 board meeting followed the second reading of proposed updates to Policy 8006, and the policy may be voted upon during the next BOE meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 27 at Buckhannon-Upshur High School. A second, unrelated discussion centered on offering sign-on bonuses for fully certified math instructors in the Upshur County School System – a proposal that board members ultimately approved Wednesday.

Upshur County Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Debra Harrison said there had been nine comments submitted regarding the updates to Policy 8006.

“One was related to a football issue, and all the rest have been related to the proposal that we go to one head track coach,” Harrison said. “The policy proposes one head (track) coach [for both the women’s and men’s teams]. There would be two assistant coaches for the females and two assistant coaches for the males.”

The version of Policy 8006 that is out for comment proposes having just one head coach position for both the women’s and men’s track-and-field teams, with that person being compensated $3,500 per season. Under the current version of 8006, there are two head coaches – one for the women’s team and one for the men’s team, each of whom are paid $2,250 for the season.

Superintendent of Upshur County Schools Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said the committee had met to draft the revisions to the policy for the purpose of receiving feedback from the community and stakeholders.

“That is what we are doing now,” Stankus said.

Dr. Tammy Samples, Upshur County BOE president, asked about the librarian position at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, which is proposed to be cut by five days – transitioning from a 205-day position to a 200-day position.

“I do not know what is done in those five days,” Samples said. “I just know that the librarian does a lot of programming, and I do not want to see those pieces go away because we have cut the time in that position.”

Samples said she was at B-UHS one of the days when the librarian had arranged to distribute free books to all high school students.

“It was incredible seeing those students get that,” Samples said. “I want to be sure we can continue to do those things that the librarian has put in place.”

Samples said she was happy to see two new high school lacrosse coach positions – one head coach ($1,650 for the season) and one assistant coach ($1,000 per season) – added to Policy 8006 but asked why a lacrosse coach wasn’t listed for Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.

“However, I did not see that on the middle school document,” Samples said. “I thought that it was to be at the middle school and the high school. I want to be sure we are having that opportunity at the middle school as well. They did not have a team this year.”

BOE member Pat Long said he felt they should separate the boys and girls track coaches. He also asked why there are supplements, or additional bonuses added to teachers’ and coaches’ salaries. Supplements are typically used to attract instructors and coaches to fill certain positions when Upshur County Schools cannot pay a base salary beyond what’s set by the West Virginia Department of Education and state Board of Education.

Upshur County BOE Business Manager Jeffrey Perkins explained the process.

“As we look at other counties, they have a basic salary and then the counties offer supplements,” Perkins explained. “This allows us to be competitive with other counties in that same position. We are not ahead – we are just competitive.”

Long asked Perkins why Upshur County Schools could not just give the people in those positions “the salary to start with.”

“It is based on education and the state salary,” Perkins explained. “We cannot do anything additional to the state salary – you take years of service and multiply that by the education to get a dollar amount. It takes a policy like this to add to that amount.”

Samples said Policy 8006 will be up for vote at the next BOE meeting, adding that she was keeping notes of the suggested changes to the proposed revisions as they discussed them.

“Prior to approval, I think we can make those changes then,” Samples said, referencing restoring the media/special specialist librarian to 205 days; keeping two distinct head women’s and men’s track-and-field coaches; and adding a lacrosse coach or coaches at the middle school.

BOE member Kristi Wilkerson said she supported moving the media specialist/librarian at B-UHS back to 205 days.

Another topic of conversation was the approval of incentives for critical need areas for teachers. Harrison said other counties are offering incentives to attract applicants for tough-to-fill positions in math and science.

“We are hoping the board might allow us to do that so we can attract fully credentialed people in our classrooms,” Harrison said. “We have been having difficulty finding people in science and math. We are hoping the Board would allow us to offer incentives for fully credentialed individuals to come and work in our county. We would have certain commitments from them; they would have to agree to give us a certain number of years in our system in turn for the incentive we offer.”

Stankus said school systems in the Eastern Panhandle have offered similar incentives for vacant positions.

“This has been done in our state for quite a while,” Stankus said. “We have not had to do this, but after posting a math positions for five, six or seven times, we wanted to see about offering it. I think it has to be enough to make people want to come to Upshur County to teach. They have to fulfill the commitment or pay us back.”

Samples said she understood the reasoning behind offering sign-on bonus for certain teaching positions but disagreed with the outcome it would produce.

“But as an educator it sticks in my craw,” Samples remarked. “Just because I am certified in math, I am going to get this big chunk of money. I work just as hard for my degree [in another field] as this math person did. I understand the reasoning, but it just doesn’t seem fair. I am not opposed – it just feels wrong.”

Harrison said she understood but reminded Samples and BOE members that there are classrooms of students who need fully qualified math instructors.

“We have had long-term subs and they have worked very hard, but they do not have the content knowledge,” Harrison said. “They do not have the pedagogy that is necessary to go into a classroom and manage that classroom in a way that learning can take place. But we are at a crucial point – we have two unfilled positions at B-UHS and one at B-UMS in math. Even if we could start with math and see what kind of response we have with that, [it would help].”

BOE members voted unanimously to approve a $9,000 sign-on bonus for the critical need incentives for math for the 2021-2022 school year. The motion was made by BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond and seconded by Long. The sign-on bonus will be reviewed on a yearly basis and will be paid within 30 days from the start of an instructor’s contract.

Jackie Zuliani, head girls track-and-field coach at B-UHS, thanked BOE members for their talk of leaving two separate head track coach positions intact.

“I think the history of the track program speaks for itself,” Zuliani said. “The girls have thrived every year. I am not sure why the change came up, but I think our success speaks for itself.”

A copy of the proposed changes to Policy 8006 that’s currently out for comment is available here, and the comment sheet is located here.

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