Substitute teachers in the Neosho School District will be employees of Penmac Services, after action by the R-5 school board Monday meeting.

Substitute teachers in the Neosho School District will be employees of Penmac Services, after action by the R-5 school board Monday meeting.

Nancy Kenney and Tim Massey of Penmac, explained to the school board that the temp agency can provide multiple benefits to substitute teachers. Kenney said that includes unlimited opportunities to teach, rather than being limited in the days that substitutes can work for a school district not to incur the costs of insurance on the district and retired teachers go beyond the limit of 550 hours without putting their retirement benefits at risk.

“Utilizing our service would encourage folks who are good at what they do in the substitute area to do more of that,” Kenney said. “And not have a minimum amount of days that they can work.”

Kenney advised that Penmac provides added values through orientation and training to ensure substitutes have a clear understanding of the needs in the classroom.

Massey explained that Penmac employees can take advantage of a 401(k).

“We match 50 percent of that up to six percent, so this would give them a vehicle that they didn’t have before for retirement, which is very important today,” he said.

Massey said Penmac is employee-owned, so substitutes would qualify for stock ownership and they would have access to a health care plan. He said the service would also open the school district to other substitutes in the region and would provide continuing education for those teachers, who would also be opened to additional opportunities to work in other school districts.

He said there will be some monitoring of the substitutes to ensure they are doing their job correctly. And if not, they would be counseled or removed. He said substitutes can be alerted to openings via automated phone call, by going online, and/or by receiving a text message.

Tim Crawley, assistant superintendent for business and finance of the school district, said he researched the new option because of new external costs that were to hit the district because of health care reform through the Affordable Care Act, and through tracking of employees and their retirement benefits.

“We were going to have to come up with a system to track the number of hours that they worked to make sure that we stayed compliant,” Crawley said.

He said that software was going to cost $17,000 the first year, then $11,000 annually, and the deal will save the district the stipend paid to sub-callers, who he said spend a half day making arrangements with substitutes, a job that routinely rotates because no one really wants it.

Crawley said other savings are realized because the district will not pay penalties because it will not be in violation of health care reforms. One of those penalties would be for allowing substitutes to work more than 30 hours in a week, which Crawley said would compel the district to pay health insurance for that teacher for the year, which would cost $4,500, or to pay a $3,000 penalty.

He said it will be huge for retired teachers, and for the district to cultivate more of their expertise.

“It allows retired teachers a lot more flexibility, they don’t have to keep track of their hours,” he said.

Crawley said retired teachers cannot work more than 550 hours for a school district without risking their retirement benefits, but can do so through the temp agency.

Crawley added, “Retired teachers are some of the best. It allows them to do more.”

Crawley feels the move will be a tremendous benefit to teachers who must miss work and for students.

“We’ve had a group of subs and we give them a one-day training early in the fall,” he said. “But then if someone comes on and subs for us later on in the year, they don’t get that training because we don’t have recurring training. Penmac will be able to offer that and so that’s a huge benefit.”

Crawley said that training will lead to a more engaged — and thus productive — classroom under substitute teachers. Penmac will actually pay subs as they undergo training and he said it will be mandatory, under the guidance of seasoned educators.

In addition to the training, Crawley said substitutes will be more in-tune with their specific classroom responsibilities.

“A teacher can put in on their computer not only, ‘I’m going to be out on this date,’ they can also load their lesson plans,” he said. “They can have direct communication with whom that sub is through that computer. There can be a better system of communication between the sub and the actual teacher through that online device which is something we’ve not had before.”

Crawley said there is also the possibility that some district teachers will be hired by Penmac to train substitutes.

“Say they want one of our high school science teachers to teach the subs how to be better science substitutes or things like that,” he said. “So we may see some specialization of substitutes, which is something unique we’ve not seen before.”

The school board amended the original contract with Penmac before providing its approval, with much discussion after learning subs would be paid $78 per day — in addition to the added benefits — instead of the $80 the district paid last year. And because the contract did not account for long-term substitutes, those working the same position for more than 10 days, being paid $100 per day previously.

Crawley explained that he was trying to get to a certain dollar amount, and to get there Penmac added many benefits but reduced the daily rate of pay.

“The board said, ‘It’s two bucks, two bucks on the normal rate of $80 a day, we’ll pay that additional, because we don’t want our people who are currently subbing to feel like they are getting less, we want them to feel like they’re getting equal and more,’” he said. “And because on the long-term subs it’s $100 a day, they’re going to pay that as well. Our bill-back will be higher, so we’re going to change that cost so that we’ll pay more for it, so our overall savings will be reduced.”

Originally estimating the move would save the district $4,500 annually, Crawley now anticipates a savings of about $2,200.

The R-5 board also approved a junior high-level softball program. Brandi Arthur, NHS head softball coach, explained to the school board during a study session earlier this month that the move would help put the varsity program on equal footing, as most other conference schools have junior high teams.

Arthur stated at the time, “It would help level the playing field for our high school team,”

The school board established school breakfast and lunch prices for the 2014-2015 school year, jumping the lunch price only, by 10-cents. All student breakfasts remain at $1.25, while adults will pay $1.50. Lunch prices go to $1.85 for elementary students, $1.95 at the middle school, $2.15 for secondary students, and $2.70 for adults.

Dan Decker, superintendent, explained that the slight increase is mandated by the federal lunch program put into place by the president’s wife, Michelle Obama.

“It’s part of the Healthy Kids Program,” he said. “The way she put the program together it just mandates as we move ahead — with the increased healthy foods there’s going to be an increased costs. So as those begin to come down then the school district in turn for full-priced lunches charges that extra 10 cents.”