Board holds off on Virtual Program enrollment

At last week’s regular meeting, the Mecklenburg County School Board denied a request from teachers and staff to reconsider removing from policy teacher compensation for unused sick leave over 120 days.

The policy currently reads: “Teachers earn an additional ten (10) sick days at the beginning of each school year. Teachers who have accumulated the maximum one-hundred-twenty (120) sick days and who do not use all ten (10) of these days shall be compensated at the substitute teacher’s daily rate of pay, $60.00, for the unused balance on the ten (10) days. This compensation will be paid in the July payroll.”

Superintendent Paul Nichols read an opinion on the matter from Wade Anderson, a partner with the School Board Attorney’s office. “The language that was removed is discriminatory in the sense that it gives a benefit to one class of employees that other classes of employees do not get. It is not unlawfully discriminatory in the sense that you are permitted to offer different benefits to different groups of employees, however, for various reasons I do not usually recommend providing a benefit such as paying out sick leave for one group employees and not others because of the potential for unforeseen disparate impacts. Also, as you know that Board of Education regulations state that teachers must be allowed to accumulate sick leave to a minimum of 90 days. Accordingly, they can certainly be capped at 120 days.”

Based on the opinion of the School Board Attorney’s office, Nichols recommended that the Board vote to keep the policy as it is allowing all employees to earn a maximum of 120 sick days. Any sick days accumulated will be paid out at the time of the employees retirement from the school division.

Virginia Virtual Academy Senior Vice-President, Peter Stewart, Senior Manager of School Operations, Jennifer Trotter, and VAVA Elementary School Principal, Deanna Swortzel spoke to the Board about the online school.

The program offers free online public school for grades K-12. “What we have focused on for the past couple of years is making sure that our high school and even our middle school students get to explore what interests them in terms of a career and passion. We find students for whom agriculture, business, or construction is an interest and we build CTE pathways for them,” said Stewart. Stewart says that there is a need for this program now more than ever with enrollment increasing from 3000 to 7000 in the past year.

Jennifer Trotter and Deanna Swortzel spoke about their experiences with the virtual school having both come from previous school systems in Montgomery County. “I can genuinely say that the passion that you see in our faces is what you get with us everyday,” said Swortzel.

Glenn Edwards expressed his concerns in signing a contract with the program after only having four days to review the material. He then requested a list of the shareholders and to know how many schools are on board with the program now. Trotter answered that there are currently 3500 returning students enrolled for the next school year and that the “enrollment portal” would add at least another 1000 students. 

“If a student goes virtual academy totally, we keep 5.5% of the ADM and you 100% of the rest correct?” asked Edwards. Stewart answered that he was correct.

Edwards then asked, “If we are giving you 94.5% of our money how do we reap any benefits?” Stewart answered, “If I did the calculations right I think that your state funding is in the $5600 range and your capacity is 2300 students, 5% of that is $711,000.”

Ricky Allgood asked who would be liable if something were to go wrong with a student enrolled in the school, specifically if there was the threat of a lawsuit. Stewart said that the School Board attorney had expressed the same concern and that according to the contract the school system would not be liable.

MCPS still has 38 students that have applied for the state virtual learning program, Virtual Virginia, according to Nichols. He also said that he is concerned about the rise in COVID numbers throughout the county and that parents who enrolled their students on face-to-face learning may decide to go the virtual route. “If they do want to enroll virtually, Virtual Virginia is no longer an option. They have shut that door for us. So we would need to have another option and this is another option for us to work with those students.”

Gavin Honeycutt said that he was glad to hear that VAVA is vetted by the Virginia Department of Education and that there is a 100% success rate.

The Board opted hold off on voting for enrollment in the VAVA program until a special Board meeting on Tuesday, July 27.