The Board of the Parker Unified School District has approved a resolution which is hoped will allow the district to continue to pay its employees during the current school shutdown. At a special meeting March 18, Superintendent Brad Sale told the board teachers might have to find “alternative” means of instruction if the closure lasts beyond March 30.
Those concerns became a reality the afternoon of March 21, when Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman announced the school closure had been extended to April 10.
The board agreed food services for students should continue to be provided during the closure.
Sale said the current closure of the schools due to the coronavirus is a situation the school district has never encountered before.
“We are definitely in uncharted territory,” he said.
On March 15, Gov. Doug Ducey and Public Education Superintendent Kathy Hoffman ordered the schools closed until at least March 30. Sale said real problems could be created if the closure is extended beyond March 30.
“This is something I’ve been worried about all week,” Sale said. “If the Governor says we’re closed, we’re closed. I wish I had more information.”
Sale said Arizona requires a minimum of 180 days of school each year. If the closure continues after March 30, the schools will need to make up that time somehow. If districts are required to pay their employees over the extended closure, he said many districts will simply run out of money.
Sale said schools and teachers will need to be creative when it comes to alternative forms of instruction. He said the Parker Schools will begin with paper pick-up and take-home packets next week, starting March 23. He said they could go to online classes, but added many students don’t have the Internet in their homes.
When it came to paying employees over the closure, Sale said it was a question of how to pay people who are forced to be away from work. By state statute, the district cannot make “gifts” of taxpayer funds.
Sale proposed that “essential” personnel could continue to be at work. Non-essential employees would be assigned to their homes, and would be “on call,” coming in when they are needed.
Essential personnel included staffing for the Superintendent’s office, the business office, each of the principal’s offices, and food service staff.
Sale said food service staff was essential because the schools are mandated to provide instruction and meals for students.
Some board members said the employees should continue to be paid during the closure.
“All employees should get paid,” Board Member Deanna Beaver said. “We shouldn’t punish anyone in this emergency.”
Food Service will be continued over the closure. The cafeterias at Wallace Elementary School and LePera Elementary School will be open from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. on weekdays, with mobile sites by the Colorado River Indian Tribes Fire Station in Poston, the MoChem housing development, and across the road from the Cienega Springs boat ramp. These will be operated like a drive-through or pick-up service, and will be available for children up to age 18. The child must be present for the meals to be picked up.
Sale said two bills being considered by the State Legislature, SB 1693 and HB 2910, would permit the schools to not extend the school year if the schools reopen March 30. The state’s testing period could be extended to late May. They would also allow schools to do alternative forms of instruction.
A question was brought up over two major upcoming events that might be affected by a prolonged closure: the prom and high school graduation. Board members expressed concern these events might have to be cancelled, denying graduating seniors something they’ve been working towards for 12 years.
Beaver suggested the graduation ceremony could be moved to later in the summer, as could the eighth grade promotion ceremony.
“If the Governor says we’re closed, we’re closed,” he said. “I wish I had more information.”