Paying employees during closure approved by Apache Junction Unified School District Governing Board

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Continuing regular payroll expenses for all its employees during the closure of schools in the Apache Junction Unified School District was recently approved by the Governing Board. The board was also updated on instructional resources for parents and on free meals to be given to students five days a week.

A resolution on the payment and approving the closure of schools as mandated by the governor and state superintendent of education were approved in a 4-0 vote at a special meeting March 17. Governing Board President Jodi Ehrlich was absent.

Without the resolution, classified non-teaching employees’ next paycheck would have been their last while the closure is in effect, AJUSD Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson said to the Governing Board.

“If we do not pass this resolution, that will be the last paycheck that our classified staff members will receive and that is not something that we want to move forward with. We want to make sure that our families --- which are included in our employees --- that they are able to be taken care of and they can make their house payments, they can buy food, they can continue to live,” she said.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent Kathy Hoffman on March 15 announced a statewide closure of schools from March 16 through March 27 due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19.

“Because we are in this unknown world --- is it going to be one week, is it going to be two weeks? We want to make sure that is something that they understand that [their] paycheck will be there,” Dr. Anderson said.

Classified staff will still be on-call if needed to come in for a meeting, run the buses or provide services to children, she said.

The Governing Board has closed all schools until March 27 --- or longer if mandated by the state, at which time the board will reassess the potential outbreak of COVID-19 and any public safety concerns, according to the resolution.

“If it gets to a point in which the governor says it’s now the district’s decision, then we will ask for a special session again or we do have a Governing Board meeting scheduled on April 14,” Dr. Anderson said.

The resolution also states, “The superintendent is authorized to continue regular payroll expenses for all employees. Non-essential employees will be reassigned to home. Essential employees will be required to work as needed. Hourly employees who are deemed essential and required to work will be paid at time and a half. All employees shall remain on call and available to report to work” and “The superintendent is authorized to extend the dates of school closure if necessary,” it states.

“(T)he Governing Board finds that it is in the best interest of the district and serves a public purpose to continue to pay its employees for the time period of the school closure in order to maintain order in the community, reduce employee turnover, allow employees to care for the needs of their families, meet its contractual obligations and increase morale for district employees during a time of national crisis,” the resolution states.

Instructional resources

School district officials have been working with other east Valley curriculum teams to compile lists of resources, Heather Wallace, executive director of AJUSD’s educational services department, said to the Governing Board.

They also e-mailed AJUSD teachers for their resources, she said.

“Because a lot of them have been compiling things, so we’ve made one big document that we can then pull from to put on our website within the next couple days by grade,” Ms. Wallace said.

They are broken down to preschool, K-2, 3-6 and 7-12, with the latter in categories such as math, science and social studies, she said.

“What we’re planning is to put those resources up on the website for parent access to use at home with students, just to kind of keep students sharp as the days go and keep them engaged. So, this in no way would replace instruction that they would get in a classroom,” Ms. Wallace said.

“There are even activities on there of just things to do at home for little kids --- build a tent and get inside and read; or as they’re driving or taking walks, looking at signs and talking about those kinds of things. So not just curriculum things --- or math, reading, science --- but trying to be able to be outside a little bit or take what you’re doing in your everyday life and making that applicable to students,” Ms. Wallace said.

Free food for children

[Related link: Marks: School district offering curbside meal service for kids during outbreak"]

AJUSD Director of Food Services Karen Warhus and her team are to begin providing a sack meal for students weekdays, Ms. Wallace said.

“I don’t want to say lunches, because she’s going to put as much as she can into the bags. It’s very hard for her to provide breakfast and lunch because there has to be a space in-between and we didn’t want to make it difficult on parents to have to come twice, so we’re calling it brunch,” Ms. Wallace said.

The food will be provided 10-11:30 a.m. Monday-Friday from the Apache Junction High School cafeteria for anyone 1 to 18 who lives in the community. Parents will pull up in their vehicle and they will be handed a bag to limit exposure to school employees and to community members, she said.

“The only stipulation is that they have to be present to get their sacks. So if you are a mom of four, you can’t just bring the baby in the car seat and pick up four bags. You have to have everybody with you because the biggest thing for her right now is that to be reimbursed she has to keep really strict paperwork,” Ms. Wallace said.

Governing Board member Christa Rizzi asked if board members could help pass out the food.

“Yeah, as long as people have a food-handler’s card,” Ms. Wallace said.

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