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South Butler OKs wellness incentive

Approval still needed by teacher's union

JEFFERSON TWP — An incentive aimed at reducing the number of substitute teachers required in the South Butler County School District is set to begin Tuesday, which marks the start of the second semester. However, the district's teacher's union has yet to approve the measure.

At its Wednesday night meeting, school board members voted unanimously to approve a memorandum of understanding with the South Butler County School District Education Association that makes the “wellness incentive” recommended by Superintendent David Foley an official program.

The wellness incentive is in response to the district's difficulty getting enough substitute teachers in its four schools.

Parents complained last year that primary school classrooms without a teacher were being sent to neighboring classrooms, where they believe the visiting students were receiving substandard education.

The wellness incentive will pay each teacher a $500 bonus at the end of the year if they do not take any of their 10 sick days off between Tuesday and the last day of school.

If the program proves successful, it will be used again at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, and teachers will be paid $500 at the end of the first semester if they do not call off, and another $500 at the end of the year if they have perfect attendance.

The board discussed teachers coming to school sick and other potential problems with the program, but believe it is the best way to alleviate the teacher shortage.

“The teachers are in favor of moving forward,” Foley said Wednesday.

But Ian Babb, president of the teacher's union, told the Eagle Thursday that union members have not yet seen the final memorandum of understanding (MOU). Babb confirmed seeing a preliminary draft of the document after the program itself was approved by the school board in December, but teachers have not yet voted to approve Wednesday's memorandum of understanding.He said the memorandum would first go to the union's attorney, who will peruse it and send it to Babb for distribution to the membership.He said the Pennsylvania State Education Association has also not seen the memorandum, which Babb said is required.Regarding the program, Babb said teachers have displayed a mixed bag of reactions to the incentive.He said if a teacher is sick and contagious, they have a moral obligation to stay home and away from their students and fellow staff.“But if there is an instance where a teacher is ill and can still come, I can see the point,” Babb said.He said Foley has done research by contacting other districts that use similar incentive programs.“I do applaud Dr. Foley for being proactive and trying to find every avenue to improve the sub shortage,” Babb said. “Whether or not it will have a positive impact remains to be seen.”Babb did not know when he would get a copy of the memorandum from the union's attorney.

Foley and the school board also tried offering a program in which district residents who have at least a bachelor's degree could train briefly to work as substitute teachers in the district. However, the program did not attract enough residents to solve the problem, according to Foley and other board members.Another consideration was switching to a different company to provide subs, but the board decided that would not alleviate the issue.The board also raised the daily pay for substitutes from $90 to $95 to make the district more competitive in the county, but still fell short of having a teacher in every class on some days.