GFPS approves substitute pay; plan for facilty improvements using COVID-relief funds

During the Oct. 25 Great Falls Public Schools board meeting, Superintendent Tom Moore said that the district’s COVID numbers were trending down.

But community transmission rates remain elevated based on the weekly case rate and positivity rate, he said.

Those trigger the mask requirements in schools and until the numbers turn around in the community, Moore said, “I’m not anxious to recommend a change in anything that we’re doing.”

County added 509 new cases over last week; case rate is 89.4

During the meeting, the board voted to approve the new collective bargaining agreement for clerical staff that includes a 50 cent pay raise, and extends the probationary period to a year.

GFPS to consider new bargaining agreement for clerical staff

The board also approved the staff request to pay substitute teachers who work 25 days or more, including at least four Fridays from Nov. 1 to Dec. 21.

Kerry Dattilo, the HR director, said that teacher absences have increased over three years and the number of substitutes working daily has decreased, leading to a lower fill rate for classrooms.

Based on the numbers over the last few years, it means 48 percent of classrooms don’t have a substitute, so administrators are in classrooms or specialists, such as librarians, counselors, literacy specialists, are in the classrooms, taking them away from their primary duties.

GFPS considering additional pay for substitutes

“We’re making it work for coverage in the classrooms, but it’s pretty painful,” Dattilo said.

She said the district lost a lot of substitutes due to COVID, starting in the spring of 2020 when there were a lot of scared people, schools were closed and some quit and didn’t want to come back because they were nervous to be around children.

Datillo said they’ve been working to hire more subs and have hired about 10-15 a week over the last month or so.

GFPS board approves plans for closures; four substitute teachers laid off [2020]

She said that November and December tend to be high on teacher absences for vacations and holidays “so we’re trying to head this off at the pass.”

She said they’re hoping to get to 75 percent fill rate, which requires 54 substitutes and if they all work the 25 days, including four holidays, for the $400 added compensation, that would be an estimated $21,000 cost to the district.

The district is using some of it’s one-time ESSER funding for the incentive and depending on how it goes, may extend the option.

She said it’s been a conversation among teachers and administrators since “it’s stressful for teachers to miss prep time and cover other classes.”

Subs typically make $90-$100 per day, Datillo said.

Board chair Jeff Gray said that for such a minimal amount, he’s not sure how much it will motivate people “but it’s good that we’re trying.”

The board also voted to resubmit the district budget due to the tax recertification needed since the Montana Department of Revenue lowered Calumet’s taxable valuation by $2.14 million after the budget was set.

County requests tax recertification for GFPS budget, Calumet tax reduction

“When we met in August we were excited that taxpayers would be paying less,” Brian Patrick, GFPS business operations director told the board, but with the change, taxpayers will end up paying slightly more to make up the difference.

Patrick said it’s Calumet’s right to ask for the reevaluation, but the timing of DoR doing it after sending certified taxable values for local governments to set their budgets in August and September is problematic.

County to consider tax recertification for Calumet valuation drop to keep GFPS budget whole

“It’s not fair to the district, to schools, to the county commissioners,” he said.

It’s a part of the process that needs to be looked at addressed to avoid in the future, Patrick said.

GFPS planning to use ARPA funds for facility improvements, new classrooms

The board also approved the plan to use American Rescue Plan funds:

  • eplace windows and air handling units at Valley View, Loy, Sunnyside, Sacajawea and Riverview elementaries and C.M. Russell High School. From the ARPA funds available, there’s not enough to complete the window project at Loy so some Elementary Building Reserve funds are also being used;
  • construct four new classrooms at Meadow Lark to address ongoing overcrowding and the long-term impact of a large kindergarten class this year.

The projects must be approved by the Montana Office of Public Instruction first and Patrick said construction contracts would come back to the board for approval.