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NPS ‘scrambles’ to fill positions one week ahead of school reopening

Excerpt of an email sent Friday to Norwalk Public Schools employees.

NORWALK, Conn. – A call for bus substitutes and invitations for volunteers to become Norwalk Public Schools employees have fed fears of inadequate staffing when the schools reopen next week.

“It doesn’t sound promising that a week before school they are scrambling for staff,” a parent said Sunday in a Facebook post.

The topic was addressed briefly last week by Norwalk Public Schools Chief Talent Officer Javier Padilla at a school reopening task force meeting.

“Our biggest task to solve is we have a number of a hiring that needs to happen,” all over the spectrum, he said Wednesday, specifying that his staff was focused on paraeducators.

“I think we’re feeling very, very confident that we’ll have at least close to half of the elementary schools fully staffed,” he said, later predicting that, “Hopefully, we’ll have all of the elementary schools completed, or most of them, by the end of this week and then continue to focus on some of the other schools.”

There’s more than one way to reach a goal, with an alternative sometimes being “more efficient” or “more financially prudent” he said. “So we’re making sure that we exhaust all of those and we also want to make sure that Finance signs off on the additional staffing that we need so that we can pay people.”

Getting the elementary schools completed would free the staff to “focus on some of the other schools but also on the other challenges on bus monitors and recess aides, and some of those other ancillary staffing needs that are critical,” he said.

NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams delivered good news Friday: Padilla had met his goal, she said, writing:

“As of end of day today {Friday}, all requests made by principals for paraeducators needed to reopen their schools have been filled.  18 new paras have been added due to needs arising from COVID-19 preparations, while other paras have had their hours expanded.

“There may still be a handful of teaching positions open with interviews that are still in progress. Others may be ongoing for harder-to find specialties; for example, we were still recruiting for a Mandarin teacher this week.

“We are actively recruiting for substitutes, including teachers and paras, through our partnership with ESS.”

 

Also on Friday, NPS sent an email to its volunteers, touching on the topic of the difficulty in allowing them to volunteer under COVID-19 restrictions, and also saying, “we are looking to hire several temporary staff members for the coming year” and “we thought we might ask folks we already know – YOU!”

The VOLUNTEERS were invited to apply for middle or high school positions, via a link. The only position shown as available Monday was for temporary paraeducators, a part-time job at $22.21 an hour.

In another email, Joe Rodriguez said, “we need to hire quite a few people to ride the buses twice each day.” This is because bus monitors are needed on every bus, not just the Special Education buses. “We need our full complement of bus monitors in time for the first day of school, September 8,” Rodriguez wrote.

The link provided by Rodriguez does not specify a particular job opening.

Both emails were posted on the Facebook page, Norwalk Parents for Education.

“After reading that email and seeing the way it’s worded ‘we continue planning for the 8th’. I think we’re going to be getting a robo call delaying again soon,” one wrote, referring to the email sent to volunteers.

“We are absolutely willing to roll with it but really wish they would give everyone more of a legit heads up,” another replied.

“I couldn’t believe they haven’t started to look the beginning of the month. It makes me feel that if they kids were starting Tuesday they wouldn’t have monitors as stated all along. The buses are going to be nightmares,” another parent said.

“I literally just got {an email} now from our school PTA looking for lunch/recess monitors as well. I was ok sending my child back to school and felt really confident about the changes the district made…but now after these emails I’m getting a little worried,” a parent wrote.

It was suggested that NPS had just found out how much funding it’s getting from the State – “more than $10 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSR) and Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF),” Mayor Harry Rilling’s Tuesday update said. Another person said NPS would have no difficulty hiring people given the 10 percent unemployment rate.

“The task force and all involved have put in countless hours into the reopening,” a commenter said. “It will be done safely and properly. If any staff don’t think so they have the option of resigning which hopefully they won’t choose to do.”

Wilcox Williams did not reply to a Monday email asking about the various emails sent to volunteers and parents since Friday, and the Facebook commentary.

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella will be addressing school reopening issues at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, held 7 p.m. on Zoom. Public comment will be allowed after her dissertation.

Board Agenda 9-1-2020 (2)

“My assessment is that every employee of the school system is working to their fullest to get ready for students under very challenging circumstances,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said in Saturday email.

There’s a rumor that some employees have attempted to use the Family and Medical Leave Act to escape the requirement that they be physically in the schools, teaching. FMLA “entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave,” the federal government states.

“FMLA is only available for individuals who are experiencing an illness and it requires medical documentation,” Yordon said. “Being at high risk for Coronavirus or complications does not make one eligible for FMLA leave, and that surprised many including me. Employees with such serious medical conditions have in fact been seeking ways to remain employed while limiting their risk of exposure. That is a sensible and understandable thing to do.”

One comment

DryAsABone September 1, 2020 at 9:16 am

I can’t decide what is more unhealthy.
The COVID virus or the unnatural obsession to open schools.
NoN should start a pool on how soon they will shut down the system…all proceeds going to charity,of course.
Any bets on NYC schools? Sure looks like a strike, and for very good reasons!

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