The shutdown of school has created uncertainty for support staff in the Tomah Area School District.
The board listened to support staff who expressed concern about not being paid or reporting to work and being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. The spread of COVID-19 triggered an order from Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers that all public and private schools be closed effective March 18.
“I would like you to consider how this will affect people on the lower end of the pay scale,” said Amy Franks, a secretary at Warrens Elementary School.
Support staff received a memo Monday outlining three options:
- Report to work.
- Stay at home without pay
- Utilize sick accumulated sick leave.
Nora Davis, a special-education aide at Oakdale Elementary School, said support staff doesn’t have the option of working from home like teachers do. Teachers will prepare and distribute lesson plans and will continue to be paid during the shutdown.
Davis said support staff salaries are already included in the budget.
“It seems like the school district is making money off this pandemic because they don’t have to pay those people now,” Davis said.
School district business manager Greg Gaarder denied the district was using the prospect of idled support staff to save money.
“The biggest thing that weighs on my mind is hourly workers,” Gaarder said.
He said paying idle support staff during the shutdown could rip a hole in the budget if classes are allowed to resume later this spring and extend into summer.
“How am I going to make that payroll up for the rest of the year, and how are we going to do that without going too far into the fund balance?” Gaarder said.
Gaarder said some support staff will be necessary. The district is planning to establish pickup points for school lunches and learning materials.
He said school buildings will be mostly empty during that time and employees would face minimal risk.
“We have to feed our students … somebody has to do that,” Gaarder said. “We have to keep our payroll office open. We have to pay our bills.”
Jim Smiezek, whose wife is a support staff worker, suggested a “furlough” approach. He said it would allow staff to “collect some type of income to keep going and not have to source out another job the next two to four weeks — or however long this lasts.”
The full school board will need to approve a permanent plan for support staff. The board will consider the issue during a special meeting Thursday, March 19.
Board member Nancy McCoy said events are moving rapidly and that any plan is subject to change.
“We’re all going through very complex choices,” McCoy said.
Tomah Journal editor
Steve Rundio can be reached
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