Meeker School Board changes policy on extended leave for teachers

MEEKER | The Meeker Board of Education (BOE) reviewed and approved several policy changes and updates Feb. 21. The consideration of eliminating a policy on extended unpaid leaves of absence for instructional (certified) staff incited interesting discussion and a split vote.
Only teachers who have been employed by the district for a minimum of five consecutive years are eligible to apply for such leave under the current policy. Superintendent Chris Selle recommended to the board that the existing policy which states that the board shall grant requested leaves of absence be repealed. Selle said he had asked the district employee council about this policy and they were undecided.
The Meeker School District Employee Council serves as a sitting committee to hear staff recommendations for district policies and procedures and to consult with the superintendent on issues that require consideration by the staff. Representation on the council comes from each of the major employee groups selecting one member to represent their group. These employee groups include teachers (to choose one member from each school building), BOCES staff, coaches/activity directors, transportation, secretaries, food service, aides, custodians and administration.
Selle told the Herald Times his overarching concern with the leave policy is the “potential it has to put the district in a difficult situation,” adding, “if leave is needed by a staff member, it can be addressed through provisions in other policies already in place.”
School board member and former teacher, Dr. Bob Dorsett disagreed with Selle’s recommendation arguing that “teachers need the option of an extended leave for professional development and personal well-being. If we expect to attract and retain the best teachers in the district,” Dorsett argued, “we need to offer incentives. Teachers in Colorado earn considerably less than other professionals with the same background, and they are expected to keep up with advancing knowledge, and the best ones commit to a lifetime in education. Sabbaticals are the norm in higher education, where the work demands and stress are a whole lot less than in K-12.”
Dorsett was joined in his argument by Tom Allen, also a former teacher. Allen told the Herald Times that he “just feels that we need to support our staff to the best of our ability. There are not too many ‘perks’ in public school teaching and we need to be able to attract and keep the very best teachers possible.”
Board member Kevin Amack suggested that with teachers having two months off every summer, they really didn’t need any additional leave. Board president Bud Ridings apparently agreed, calling for the vote on a motion to repeal the extended leave policy. The motion passed 4-2 with only Dorsett and Allen voting in opposition. Board member Bill DeVergie was not present. None of the board members who voted in the affirmative on the motion have returned requests for comment.
Barone Middle School Principal Jim Hanks asked if the repeal of this policy would mean that teachers would no longer have the opportunity to ask for an extended leave. Selle responded that was how he would interpret it unless there were extenuating circumstances, as in a prolonged illness (which he maintains are covered under other policies). This reporter questioned whether or not removal of the policy would take away important professional development opportunities for teachers which the district claims to encourage and promote (the current policy mentions professional development as a reason for extended leaves). Selle suggested extended leaves were often not used for professional development.
Former science teacher Pat Robinson told the Herald Times she took an extended leave from her teaching job in a large San Diego high school to come to Meeker some 30 years ago in order to learn more about education and curriculum in a small school district. She said San Diego schools strongly encouraged teachers to take extended leaves of one to three years as needed. Such leaves were to pursue further training, experience and/or simply to be refreshed. She reported the school district would often save significant dollars by hiring younger, less experienced short-term replacements (extended substitutes) while also being able to bring new and exciting talent to the school. She sees the repeal of the extended leave policy as particularly unfortunate for Meeker.
Repeal of this policy will be revisited on third and final reading at the board’s March 14 meeting.
A new policy on the employment of retired employees was approved on first reading Feb. 21. The board engages in a three-step process on policy adoptions. The second reading on this policy regarding the use of district retirees will occur at their March 14 meeting (moved to the second Tuesday of the month since the usual third Tuesday falls during the school district’s spring break).
Policies on nondiscrimination/ equal opportunity regarding complaint and compliance processes; student travel regarding the district not sponsoring any foreign travel; professional staff training, workshops and conferences, regarding which such activities will be authorized and funded; and support staff vacations and holidays, regarding these benefits for 12 month (year-round) employees were all updated and approved on second reading on Feb. 21.
The board also approved the district’s calendars for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years. School will start the fourth weeks of August; Thanksgiving breaks will be five days (including the weekend); Christmas breaks will total 17 days; spring breaks will be the third week in March; and graduations will be on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, all with four day weeks.