Racine Unified has chosen a costlier route than some other state school districts when it comes to making up time lost earlier this year because teachers took sick or personal days en masse to protest Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill.
Of 13 Wisconsin school districts that had sick-outs contacted by The Journal Times, Racine Unified is the only one spending a substantial amount - estimated at $478,000 - on extra staff pay to make up classroom time lost when teacher sick-outs closed schools.
The other school districts implemented low-cost or cost-neutral ways to make up the lost educational time. Unified officials said the lower-cost options chosen by other districts would not work in Racine because of scheduling issues and contract terms.
Unified schools were closed one day because of a sick-out. To make up that time, the district is tacking on an extra day to the end of the school year.
That extra day could cost the district an extra $478,000 in staffing costs because employees will be paid to work the additional day and were already paid for work during the sick-out, either because they came in as asked or used paid sick or personal days. The district hopes to lower that $478,000 somewhat by taking a day's pay away from staff who participated in the sick-out.
Unified has to make up the sick-out day because the state requires school districts meet both a certain number of instructional days and a certain number of instructional hours each school year. Without the added day, Unfied would miss both the day and hour requirement, district spokeswoman Stacy Tapp said.
Other districts make changes
Other districts are in a similar situation, having days, hours or both to make up. But school officials elsewhere are dealing with that situation differently, according to Journal Times inquiries to the 100 most populous school districts in the state.
Of those school districts, 65 could be reached last week. Most of those 65 districts reported they did not have sick-outs but 13 did.
Most of those 13 districts do not have to make up days or hours from the sick-outs because they had enough extra time already built into their school
year that they'll still meet state requirements. Because they won't be adding any school time, staff costs won't be affected, officials said.
A few other districts, like Unified, did not have the extra calendar days and had to find other solutions, possibly affecting costs.
The Wausau School District has one sick-out day to make up. It's doing so by adding an extra student attendance day to the end of the school year like Unified. But unlike Unified, it is having that day take the place of an end-of-year, staff-only attendance day. That means there will be no extra staffing costs since teachers and others would have been working that day anyway, said
Jeff Gress, the district's human resources director.
"It's a break-even, basically," he said.
Madison used some math and a state law to avoid paying extra staffing costs to make up four days lost to teacher protests.
The Madison Metropolitan School District took advantage of Act 42, which allows a superintendent and school board to close schools for health and safety concerns.
"We did that because our rationale for closing schools was that a lack of staffing would pose a threat to the health and safety of our students due to inadequate supervision," said Dylan Pauly, Madison's legal counsel.
School days missed using Act 42 do not need to be made up but the hours missed on those days do. To make up the lost hours, Madison negotiated with their teachers' union to extend each school day from mid-March to the end of the school year by between 12 and 20 minutes; they also changed some scheduled half days to full days, said Sue Abplanalp, Madison's deputy superintendent.
The added time is extra instructional time but is not technically extra work time for staff. That means there should not be any significant added cost, even when taking into account most staff members were paid for coming to work on the sick-out days, Abplanalp said.
"Teachers used to be (at school working) about 30 minutes after students left, now they're only there 15 minutes extra because the other about 15
is still student time now," she said. "It's the same clock time for teachers but we're giving them more student contact time."
Pauly said they worked with their bus service providers and altered sports schedules to accommodate their longer school days, and that it has not been a problem.
Unified: Limited options
Such methods would not have worked in Racine though, Unified officials said.
Unified didn't have enough extra calendar days to avoid adding a school day, they said, because two snow days this year already used up any extra days.
Officials also found Madison's lengthening of school days unfeasible for Racine after careful consideration, Unified's Tapp said.
"We felt it would be more disruptive to parents to have to change a schedule for the rest of the school year rather than adjusting for one day due to parent and family schedules, day care schedules, after-school activities, all sorts of things," Tapp said, explaining adding time to the school day would have also altered schedules for area private schools who share busing services with Unified.
Plus, adding minutes to school days instead of adding a whole day wouldn't have saved any money anyway, Tapp said, because the district is contractually obligated to pay staff for any added time no matter where in the calendar or school day it's added.
Unified also considered Wausau's plan of changing their end-of-year staff day to a student attendance day, but making such a change would have required Unified to change its teachers' contract.
Doing so would have meant opening up contract negotiations, a move deemed too risky because of uncertainty over whether Walker's budget repair bill limiting negotiation items is in effect or not, said Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw.
"Our attorney felt given the state of the legislation right now and whether or not the law is in effect it the safest thing was to follow the law," Shaw said. "From a legal perspective the best way to proceed was to honor the terms of the contract."
Journal Times Assistant Local Editor Bridget Thoreson contributed to this report.