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School district looks at unpaid suspension authority to save money

By Staff | Apr 21, 2011

In an effort to save money, the Lee County school board is considering granting permission to its superintendent to suspend employees without pay prior to any action that the board makes.
Dr. Greg Adkins, chief human resource officer, said during a workshop Tuesday the district’s number of days for employee investigations range depending on the nature of the suspension.
The pre-determination schedule is typically about seven days in length and the investigation and the pre-determination hearing is concluded in approximately 10 days. The employee is then served with a petition and a special board meeting is set for the next step in the investigation timeline, which includes a five-day petition for termination. The request of a hearing then takes place with a timeline of 22 days before a special board meeting is conducted.
“You have some period of time that could be up to 30 days depending on when the board meets,” Adkins said.
During the 2008-2009 school year, though, there were a total of 41 suspensions that lasted an average of 55 days, which had a daily cost of $200. There were also six arrest related suspensions during the same year that averaged 87 days at a cost of $182 per, along with 35 non-arrest suspensions that averaged 52 days at a cost of $203 per to the district.
The suspension with pay increased during the 2009-2010 school year, with a total of 44 suspensions that lasted an averaged of 44 days at a daily cost of $237. Last year there were also five arrest related suspensions that averaged 57 days for an investigation at a cost of $288 per day. There were also 39 non-arrest related suspensions with the investigation lasting 43 days at a cost of $230 per.
So far during the 2010-2011 school year there has been a total of 12 suspensions that have had an average of 36 days for the investigation with a cost of $193 per day.
“We are more aggressive,” Adkins said about the number of employers they suspend due to their “poor performance.”
Adkins said the district pushes more towards having department of administrative hearings, due to the amount of investigations they handle. He said they are fortunate to have two professional investigators who worked for the Department of Education in their office.
A consideration that they board shared an interest in pursing during the Tuesday briefing meeting included granting the superintendent permission to suspend an employee without pay before board action is taken. Adkins said that action is based on a criminal arrest where the facts are pretty well-known and the superintendent can take action quickly.
Board Chairman Thomas Scott agreed with the consideration of suspending an employee without pay because if they are found not guilty their pay would be available to them when the investigation is over.
“To not be paid for that period of time doesn’t mean that they won’t be paid for that period,” he said.
Board member Jane Kuckel said she would be interested in granting the authority to the superintendent, along with amending the board policy.
The other option under the suspension without pay policy recommendation includes providing the superintendent with the option of suspending an employee without pay after their pre-determination hearing.
Data based on the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school year shows a savings of 38 days of suspension and a cost savings of $9,651 per day.
Another consideration for the board includes a policy change to provide the right of a hearing before the division of administrative hearings for instructional employees and administrators only. During the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years the district spent a total of $62,000 in division of administrative hearings.
Another consideration would give principals and school staff the responsibility to do their own school-based investigations.
Scott questioned how many principals and staff are equipped with the knowledge of doing an investigation properly, along with how many the district would have to train.
“We need to have professional investigators and professional principals and they ought to not cross,” he said.
Scott asked that a complete revision be submitted to the board in early July regarding district suspensions, so they can work on suspension with or without pay as an entire package.
“Bring it back to us as a recommendation to the board to change the policy and implement it everywhere,” Scott said.
Adkins reassured the board that by July they can reach an agreement around the issue because the district works in an interest based environment.