Lawrence school employees will be paid during closure; plans still in works for others affected by shutdowns

photo by: Journal-World File Photos

Story last updated at 6:06 p.m. Wednesday

After orders to close school facilities, Lawrence public school employees will continue to be paid through the end of the academic year, the district announced late Wednesday afternoon.

But long-term plans are still being developed for some other area government and school district employees affected by closures related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Douglas County’s health department ordered local public and private schools, indoor parks and recreation facilities and public libraries closed for two weeks in response to the spread of the new coronavirus. The order took effect immediately upon the announcement late Friday and will last until at least Sunday, March 29.

Schools, however, will be closed much longer. Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday ordered all Kansas schools closed for the rest of the academic year, adding some uncertainty to the pay for their employees.

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School districts

Most employees working for the Douglas County school districts were set to be paid during the previously ordered two-week closure.

Prior to Kelly’s announcement, teachers in the Lawrence, Baldwin City and Eudora districts were set to receive pay for their salaries in line with their negotiated contracts. Public school teachers are often paid through union-negotiated contracts, which can spread their earnings for nine months of work over a 12-month period.

During her press conference announcing the long-term closures, Kelly said school “employees will be paid — both the salaried employees and the hourly employees.” But Kelly did not provide any details on how that would happen, and it was not outlined in her signed executive order.

Teachers are expected to be asked to teach their students in some virtual-school fashion for the rest of the school year. Julie Boyle, spokeswoman for the Lawrence school district, said in a news release that the school district is currently working to implement a “continuous learning” plan for students that will begin on March 30.

The status of long-term pay within the Lawrence school district was undetermined for most of Wednesday, but at about 4:30 p.m., Boyle said in an email to the Journal-World that all employees would be paid through the end of the school year.

“Current contracted and at-will employees of the Lawrence Public Schools will be paid through the end of the school year, according to their regular payroll schedule,” she said. “The district is working now on plans to communicate this information to all of its employee groups.”

Melissa Johnson, Lawrence school board president, said Wednesday that the board appreciated Kelly’s comments, as paying hourly employees was one of its “concerns and priorities” amid the ordered closure.

“We’re grateful that Governor Kelly has addressed this at the state level so that we are able to communicate that with (hourly) staff and hopefully put their mind at ease as we tackle this new normal for the remainder of the school year,” Johnson said.

Additionally, the hourly staff for the Eudora school district will be paid during the extended closure. After Kelly’s announcement, Eudora school district spokesman Mark Dodge told the Journal-World in an email that the school district’s work agreements with hourly staff would be “honored” for the rest of the school year.

However, the Baldwin City school district is still up in the air. Superintendent Paul Dorathy on Monday said the school board approved paying hourly workers during the original two-week closure, but he added the board would need to make another decision if the closure was extended.

“All employees would still receive pay during this closure,” Dorathy said Monday. “Our board would have to discuss extending the pay past the two weeks.”

After Kelly’s announcement of extended closure, Dorathy said Wednesday the board will need to meet in the near future to make a decision on pay for the rest of the school year. He said a special board meeting will be scheduled, but a date for that meeting has not yet been determined.

Lawrence board member Shannon Kimball, who is also the president for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said Wednesday that there were many details to be worked out, but she believed it was the state’s intention for all school hourly staff to be paid for the remainder of the school year.

“There is still a lot of moving parts that everybody is trying to put together to make sure we cover all the bases,” she said. “Everything I’ve heard and read … indicates that the intention is that districts will be able to pay those hourly staff. The details about what you have to do to make that happen are still in the works.”

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Recreation facilities

For the city of Lawrence, the two-week closure affects the city’s four recreation centers, the Indoor Aquatic Center and the Prairie Park Nature Center. The Lawrence Public Library has also closed. For now, all of those employees can continue to receive paychecks.

Parks and Rec Director Derek Rogers said Tuesday the department currently employs about 80 full-time staff and 125 part-time workers, which include lifeguards, park maintenance staff, front desk receptionists, recreation instructors and sports league officials. Rogers said the city is sympathetic to how employees are affected by the closure orders and cancellations, and that the city is providing options for them to continue working.

Specifically, Rogers said the closure and cancellations require a lot of customer support, and even those employees whose jobs are directly affected still have the option to come into work through March 29.

“It was very quickly how this happened,” Rogers said. “As we adjust to the consequences and how we operate in response to the coronavirus and the speed of closing our rec facilities, we are supporting our part-time workers with continued, consistent employment over the next two weeks.”

Apart from handling customer service-related tasks for all the cancellations, Rogers said the department will soon begin a deep cleaning of all its buildings. In addition to the indoor pool and the nature center, the four recreation centers include basketball courts, indoor soccer fields, locker rooms, cardio equipment, weight rooms, game rooms, gymnastic areas and multipurpose rooms.

However, Rogers said if the department’s facilities are ordered to remain closed beyond March 29, it has not yet been determined how that will affect staffing or whether the department can continue to employ everyone. He noted that the coronavirus outbreak will affect both indirect and direct revenue for the department and the city. Rogers said indirect revenue comprises sales tax and alcohol tax revenue that will take a hit from slow sales citywide and the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament.

The closure order directly affects the department’s revenue for pool entrance fees, class and activity fees, and facility rentals, among other revenue. For example, Assistant Director Lee Ice said that the closure has so far required the cancellation of two volleyball tournaments at Sports Pavilion Lawrence, which Ice estimated would have generated around $30,000 total for the department. Ice said that last March the department generated $350,000 in direct revenue, including fees for tournaments, recreation classes, swimming pool entrances, sports league registrations and facility rentals, among other fees.

The department employs up to 700 part-time workers in the summer to staff additional activities such as the outdoor pool, day camps and summer sports leagues. Ice said the direction right now is for the department to continue to recruit part-time workers for the summer season so that the department is prepared to open recreation facilities and offer activities.

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The Lawrence Public Library

The library is much less dependent on vulnerable revenue sources and will continue to pay all staff members, including those who will not be working during the closure. Executive Director Brad Allen said the library has about 90 employees, about half of whom are part-time. Allen said on Monday that the library is still determining which employees will continue to work during the closure, but that all employees would be paid for the schedule they normally work regardless.

“Basically we are in a position to where everybody is getting paid for their normal work, whether they are able to come in and do it or not,” Allen said.

Allen said that since property tax revenue supports the library’s operations, there is little to no revenue loss due to the closure. Allen said the only impacts on revenue were the minimal charges for photocopies and renting the library’s auditorium. The library does not charge late fees for overdue materials.


More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/


What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVID-19@ks.gov or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.


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