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School employees to receive stipend, extra time off

“We need to take care of one another during these difficult times. And what I want the staff and families to know is that we’re listening, and we’re trying to adjust to provide some of the supports so that you are better able to provide the support that our children need," Superintendent Laine Larson said.

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Brainerd Public Schools Superintendent Laine Larson discusses the proposed Employee Support Plan -- aimed at helping the mental health and other concerns for district employees -- during the school board meeting Monday, Dec. 13, 2021. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Stipends, extra prep time and increased access to mental health services are all part of the Brainerd Public Schools Employee Support Plan, which aims to alleviate some of the stress felt over the past school years.

Superintendent Laine Larson presented the plan to the school board Monday, Dec. 13, citing concerns for student and staff mental health, increased illnesses and absences, staffing shortages, transportation concerns, learning loss, high levels of employee fatigue and low levels of morale.

Larson said administrators talked with staff members and transportation providers at Reichert and met with representatives from every employee union in the district to learn about the challenges they are facing and what kind of help they need.

“We need to take care of one another during these difficult times,” Larson said. “And what I want the staff and families to know is that we’re listening, and we’re trying to adjust to provide some of the supports so that you are better able to provide the support that our children need.”

Administrators reviewed concerns brought up and data gathered to come up with five recommendations of ways to help staffers.

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The first is a change to the calendar. While some employees requested two full weeks of winter break beginning Dec. 20 instead of Dec. 23, Larson said she did not feel that was the right move for various reasons. It would be short notice for families, she said, and with five and a half months left in the school year, she felt it would be better to spread out extra breaks rather than clumping them all together.

Students will have an additional day of vacation after winter break, returning to class Tuesday, Jan. 4, instead of Monday, Jan. 3, with staff getting an extra work day Monday to prepare for the upcoming semester.

Jan. 17 and March 4 are already planned as staff in-service days, but the professional development portion of those days will be cut in half, with the second half of each of those days being staff work days, or time for staff members to prepare for their classes.


"We need to take care of one another during these difficult times. And what I want the staff and families to know is that we’re listening, and we’re trying to adjust to provide some of the supports so that you are better able to provide the support that our children need."

- Superintendent Laine Larson.


Feb. 18 will be an additional staff work day, while April 18 will be a paid holiday for all regularly scheduled full-time staff members, giving them a four-day weekend over Easter.
The district’s 2021-22 calendar provides six more instructional days than required by the state, which allows for the extra days off.

The second recommendation is longevity stipends for all staff. All current, regular employees who worked during the 2020-21 school year and finish out the current school year will receive $1,000. They will receive $500 at the end of January and another $500 in early July 2022 if they complete the school year.

All current, regular employees who began working in the 2021-22 school year before Dec. 15 and finish out the school year will receive a $500 stipend. They will receive $250 at the end of January and another $250 in early July 2022 if they complete the school year.

Part-time employees will receive a prorated stipend.

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The money for the stipends will come from the district’s federal coronavirus relief funds and are estimated to cost about $1.16 million.

The third recommendation is increased access to mental health services. Employees will have access to up to three 30-minute sessions with a mental health professional at no cost to them, with money for the services coming from the district’s wellness funding through Medica. Mental health and crisis services remain in place for all students in the district as well.

The fourth recommendation is stipends for employees willing to provide targeted services to students. Targeted services programs provide before-school, after-school and summer help to students in kindergarten through eighth grade who struggle in a traditional school setting and need additional time to develop skills and abilities. Teachers who work the first targeted service session in winter 2022 will receive a stipend of $360, and those who also work the spring 2022 session will receive an additional $468.

Paraprofessionals who agree to work the targeted services sessions will receive $200 per session worked in addition to any applicable overtime, while clerical staff will earn $100 per session along with any overtime.

These stipends will be paid for from the district’s targeted services fund, which Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn said has an excess of funds, as these programs have not been able to fully operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final recommendation is a stipend of $10 each time a teacher has to forfeit their prep period to substitute for another colleague. These stipends will be retroactive to Nov. 1.

Board members unanimously approved the plan.

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Board Chair Ruth Nelson said while she does not like seeing instructional time taken away from students, she believes the extra preparation time and time off seems to be what teachers need most.

Larson said the plan is administrators’ best efforts at a “happy medium” for all employees with various job duties.

“I won’t even pretend that this is a perfect plan, but I think it’s the best plan for meeting as many of the needs as we can for our entire staff,” she said.

After board member Kevin Boyles praised administrators for working as hard as they did on the plan and meeting with so many stakeholders, Larson turned that praise to the entire district.

“This is an incredible district with absolutely fabulous, fabulous employees. I look out here today, and I literally get tears in my eyes because our people are the best of the best, and they have given their heart and soul through a really, really difficult time,” Larson said. “So thank you for recognizing that because we’re just really proud of the work that we have pulled out of this over the course of the last three school years that have been very challenging.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .
Related Topics: EDUCATION
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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