Employees of the Wauseon school district have sacrificed at least $20,000 in monetary incentives to offset a significant financial loss the district suffered to ensure its students were fed.
Some members of the teachers’ and bus drivers’ unions, as well as non-union staff, pledged to waive incentives they are entitled to receive for unused personal and sick days during the 2019-20 school year. The gesture was made to counter the loss of about $47,000 in district funds used to provide meals for underprivileged students after the coronavirus pandemic caused the school buildings to close.
Superintendent Troy Armstrong said he was approached April 18 by leaders of the Wauseon Education Association and the local chapter of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees with a proposal to ease the school district’s financial setback. The unions offered to give the teachers and bus drivers they represent the option to waive their incentives – $400 for teachers who don’t use two contracted personal days and $300 for bus drivers who use two or fewer sick days during the school year.
The waiver option was extended to non-union employees, who also receive incentives for unused personal and sick days.
As of Monday, the deadline to waive the incentives, participating employees saved the school district more than $20,000 in payouts.
Armstrong said while the outcome typifies the generosity of the school district’s employees, it was nonetheless appreciated.
“This staff does a lot of great things. I wasn’t surprised that they came forward to help, but I was elated that they came forward to help,” he said. “I was (however) surprised by the amount of money that we were able to collect via that waiver.”
He said the district determined it was necessary to continue feeding students who count on the school breakfasts and lunches as part of their daily meal schedule. Between March 23 and May 27 the district served 123,328 meals to 7,516 students, three-fourths of whom qualified for free meals during the school year. Each student received two breakfasts and two lunches on Mondays and Wednesdays, and one of each meal on Friday to insure coverage each weekday.
The meals were distributed on a per-student basis at both Wauseon Elementary School and district bus stops, where bus drivers delivered meals to waiting students.
“We served any student that felt they needed a meal,” Armstrong said. “We knew there were families affected by COVID-19, either laid off or working a reduced amount of time. We decided that we would serve a meal to anyone who showed up…We didn’t want to discriminate against anyone in need.”
But because the state would only reimburse the district for meals given to students who qualified for free meals, about $47,000 was taken from the district’s general fund to pay for the rest, not including the cost of labor.
Tom Burkholder, president of the Wauseon Education Association, said the union had been looking for a way to assist with the school distict’s meal program.
“We had a huge response from teachers that wanted to do whatever they could to help,” he said. “The teachers of Wauseon are always supportive of whatever they can do for the students.”
Armstrong said he doesn’t expect the full cost of the meals to be recouped through the incentive option. He said the district’s loss will be in addition to an immediate $290,000 cut in state aid that occurred in May, sparked by Ohio budget cuts related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school district’s state cuts could potentially result in faculty and staff reductions for the 2020-21 school year, which begins Aug. 17. Armstrong said no decision will be made until state cuts for Fiscal Year 2021 are released. “We’re waiting on that before we make it official,” he said.
Armstrong also lauded the franchise owners of the McDonald’s location in Wauseon. The restaurant at 1375 N. Shoop Ave. donated 733 cards good for either a free breakfast or lunch to all of the school district’s students who qualified this school year for a free or reduced lunch.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.