School 'furlough day' not likely

Staff writerMay 7, 2009 

— The Wake school board probably won't be able to cut a day off the school year so employees can take their furloughs.

The State Board of Education approved furlough rules at its meeting Wednesday, and allowing a shorter school year was not one of the options.

Last week Gov. Beverly Perdue announced that she was cutting employee salaries one-half of one percent. In exchange, employees will take flexible furloughs of 10hours before the year ends. School boards and employees have been waiting for instructions on how to schedule the leave.

The Wake school board and the leader of the Wake educators association decided Tuesday to ask the state board to allow the district to hold 179 days of school rather than 180. Districts must ask for state permission to shorten the school year. A successful waiver request usually has something to do with extreme weather forcing a district to call off school for so many days that they cannot easily be made up.

The state board did not address Wake's request specifically. When asked whether the board would allow a district to close school for a day to handle furloughs, William Harrison, the board chairman and state public schools CEO, said, "I don't think so."

As expected, the furlough policy says teachers, media specialists, bus drivers and teacher assistants who require substitutes cannot take school days off.

But Harrison said he is telling local districts that employees can take furlough time here and there during the school day if they're not teaching or supervising students. For example, a teacher who has a planning period in his schedule that she doesn't need can count that time toward the 10 hours.

"I believe that was the intent," Harrison said.

The board policy changes furlough dates in Perdue's executive order to allow school employees to start taking time off this month rather than waiting until June. This gives employees who won't be returning to work next year the chance to take off work.

Though the policy does not address school employees paid with county funds, Harrison said he recommends districts treat them as if they are state employees.

Unlike teachers, bus drivers who are paid by the hour don't have days they can use for furloughs. It is still unclear how bus drivers will be able to take a 10-hour leave.

lynn.bonner@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4821

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