Staff shortage shuts down Shenandoah Valley on Friday
SHENANDOAH - Due to an unexpected shortage of teachers and other personnel, the Shenandoah Valley School District did not hold classes Friday as a safety precaution.
District Superintendent Stanley G. Rakowsky made the decision to close the schools for the day in the morning after learning that 22 percent, or 19 of 85, of the staff would not be in for various reasons, with the majority due to illness.
There was conjecture by the public on the street and in social media that the large number of staffers not coming to work was actually a "sickout" as a protest involving lack of progress on a union contract. Rakowsky was not aware or informed of any such protest involving contract negotiations.
When Rakowsky made the decision to close the school, high school students had arrived at the education complex in time for classes to begin at 8:05 a.m. The elementary students start their day about an hour later, though some students had come to the school and went home.
Rakowsky found out about the personnel shortfall when he arrived at 7:30 a.m.
"There were 11 teachers in the high school and six at the elementary school," he said. "High school Principal Phil Andras is out on jury duty and, as I found out later, our elementary Principal Brooke Wowak fell and hurt herself a little bit."
Rakowsky said one high school teacher had a scheduled personal day and another teacher was on an approved in-service day.
One elementary teacher also had a scheduled personal day. He said that no more than four teachers can take a personal day on the same day.
There were two personnel absences that led Rakowsky to make the school closing decision.
"The critical factor in this is two of the people who are absent were nurses," Rakowsky said. "We don't have any substitutes. We have medications that need to be given to a number of kids, let alone if an emergency came up. I looked at the situation and just didn't believe we could safely operate the school with the staff that we had. It came down to that."
Rakowsky said the parents of elementary students were contacted to inform them to keep their children at home. The high school students at the school were sent home by 9 a.m.
"When you're talking about a quarter of your staff, then you're starting to get into problems," Rakowsky said. "But what exacerbates it is who is absent, and the nurses were the critical ones right there because they can do certain things because of their licenses."
How the day will fit into an already modified calendar due to snow days will be worked out, Rakowsky said.
"We're going to make the day up somehow, but how I'm not sure yet," he said. "We'll do it contractually."
Rakowsky expects that the school day off should not affect the June 5 graduation date, which has already been moved from June 2 due to snow days.
When asked about a possible sickout by teachers, Rakowsky said, "I have no proof of that. I would not expect that from most of those who called in sick. I really wouldn't."
The school district is currently in negotiations with the Shenandoah Valley Education Association, which represents the teachers and other professionals, and the Shenandoah Valley Educational Support Personnel Association, which represents support/custodial employees.
The last negotiated SVEA contract expired at the end of the 2011-12 school year and the teachers continue to work under that contract until a new one is reached. The SVESPA contract expired at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
"We're going on two years without a contract with the teachers. We're closer (in negotiations) with our support and custodial staff than with the teachers," Rakowsky said. "We haven't met with the teachers in awhile. The last time we had a meeting (with SVEA) was probably in November when we gave a proposal and at that point, we were waiting for them to come back with a counterproposal. We haven't received a response back. There have been no meetings."
Rakowsky said the school board has recently made an offer to the SVESPA and the district is awaiting a response.
SVEA President Richard Werner could not be reached for comment.