Schools eye staff loss to vaccine mandates

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
The Lebanon Community School District expects to lose 15 classified staff this month due to state mandates that require school personnel to be vaccinated by Oct. 18.
During the school board meeting on Oct. 14, Supt. Bo Yates said they are “desperately” trying to hire help to fill in the gaps, and there is also a shortage of substitute teachers available.
The 15 who will lose their jobs did not request any exemption from the requirement, board member Tom Oliver noted. Any staff member who requested an exemption has been granted one.
“Next week is going to be a challenge,” Yates said. “We’re not gonna blink. We’re going to keep moving forward.”
His biggest concern at the moment is a lack of drivers that make it difficult to get kids to school. In response, the district expects to make changes, which might include changing school start times.
“The most important thing is that we have kids in person in our schools, in front of teachers and staff,” Yates said. “There’s gonna have to be some flexibility and partnership with parents to make sure that happens.”
The district has to “reinvent school” every day, given the resources they have to throw at the challenges they’re facing, Yates said, likening it to doing triage on a daily basis. But losing 15 employees won’t keep the district from being operational.
Kim Grousbeck, director of human resources, reported, however, that the district has more employees this year than she ever remembers it having.
“Though our needs are a lot higher, we have just over 600 employees,” she said.
And the district is still looking to hire more custodians, instructional assistants, personal care assistants, secretaries, bus drivers and food service staff, as well as a few licensed staff.
Grousbeck said the process of But dealing with the state mandate requiring vaccinations has been hard.
“We want to value employees regardless if they’re vaccinated, not vaccinated, or deciding that they need to leave the district,” she said.
The HR office has an open-door policy to help employees with the process, she said.
“There are a lot of feelings out there,” Grousbeck said. “We’re willing to listen to those feelings. We can’t do anything about some of them, and that’s a really difficult place to be.”
Also during the meeting, Yates noted the number of quarantine days each school has had so far. Cascades has had 465 days of quarantine; Green Acres has had almost 1,400 days; Hamilton Creek had 1,000; Lacomb had 835; Lebanon High School had more than 1,200; Pioneer had more than 650; and Riverview had a little more than 200.
On a brighter note, Yates said the attendance rate is about 91 percent, which indicates to him that students are excited to be back in school.
Also present at the meeting was board member Mike Martin. Members Todd Gestrin and Tammy Schilling were present electronically.
In other business, the board:
♦ Heard a report by Bill Witman on the STAR baseline achievement data. Data comparing the Fall 2019/20 and Fall 2021/22 numbers reveal a drop in student performance for every grade level. Witman attributes the drop to disruptions from COVID;
♦ Discussed a bond proposal that would fund building maintenance and renovation of the pool facility (see page 3). The last big bond in Lebanon was in 2001 with a levy rate of $3 per $1,000, which over time had been refinanced such that the average 20-year rate was about $2.20. Lebanon homeowners are currently paying $1.68 per $1,000 on that bond.
The school district is seeking to go to voters next spring with a goal to raise $20 million through a new bond, with a plan to also pursue an additional matching fund of up to $8 million through the state. If approved, the district expects this bond to cost about $5 per month for the average property owner.
♦ Denied a proposal to amend the district’s evaluation process for the 2021/22 school year. An increase in challenges due to COVID has decreased the amount of time available to perform evaluations, so the district was provided an option to perform evaluations this year for only probationary teachers and administrators.
Oliver and Schilling disapproved of the proposal, citing evaluations as a valuable factor in the professional development of teachers and staff.
After some discussion, the board agreed to compromise by developing a modified process of evaluation, as long as the union and board approve it.
♦ Heard a report by Alisha Port, lead technology support specialist, regarding a grant she won from the Emergency Connectivity Fund. Monies from the grant will outfit the buses with WiFi access, and go toward the purchase of almost 800 Chromebooks.
The ECF is a program that helps schools and libraries close the homework gap by providing services that students might struggle to access.