Wake Ed

Wake County school employees will get time to volunteer in community

Wake County school employees now have two days a year to volunteer in community activities such as building Habitat for Humanity homes such as this one on Lake Wheeler Road constructed in 2016 by Lutheran church volunteers.
Wake County school employees now have two days a year to volunteer in community activities such as building Habitat for Humanity homes such as this one on Lake Wheeler Road constructed in 2016 by Lutheran church volunteers. News & Observer file photo

The Wake County school system is making it easier for its 19,134 employees to volunteer in community activities such as building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

The Wake school board unanimously revised its benefits and employment policy on Tuesday to give employees two days each school year of “community responsibility” leave that can be used to provide volunteer charitable services at events in Wake County. This will allow school employees to use the new leave days instead of personal vacation days when they volunteer.

“What we know as a organization is we have employees who want to spend time out in service,” said Raushawna Price, Wake’s senior director of human resources.

The school board normally requires two votes to approve a policy. But the second vote was waived Tuesday so that the new leave days can be used by people who participate in upcoming construction of Habitat for Humanity homes for Wake school employees.

The school district has partnered with Habitat for Humanity of Wake County to help raise money and build homes for two employees.

Anita Stewart, a custodian at Mills Park Middle School in Cary, is slated to get a new house from Habitat for Humanity.

Roxanne Harris, a Wake school bus driver, is also in line to get a new house from Habitat for Humanity.

Wake County Superintendent Jim Merrill updated the public Tuesday on the efforts to raise money to help Harris. He said 100 schools and district central service departments have raised about $10,000 and Moseley Architects had contributed $2,000.

“We will work together as a district, along with partners from our community, to help fund and build a home for her and her three children,” Merrill said.

There are limitations in how the new leave days can be used. The activity must be for a group that is a 501(c)(3) organization.

People can’t use the new leave to play in a charity or fundraising event, such as a golf tournament. But the leave may be approved to volunteer at the event, such as registering people to play.

Additionally, the leave can’t used to volunteer at events designed to promote religious or political beliefs. But the leave might be approved for events hosted by faith-based groups if there’s a secular purpose to the event, such as providing a service to the community.

Another big limitation is that teachers can’t use the leave on days when they’d need to find a substitute teacher to replace them in the classroom. That means that teachers can only use the new leave days on teacher workdays.

School board member Jim Martin asked administrators to continue looking for ways to expand the leave benefit for teachers.

Even with the limitations, school board members and administrators said the community leave option is a great thing to offer.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback that employees are excited about the potential for this policy,” Price said. “They feel it s a way to not only reward our current employees, but it is also a recruitment tool as it shows our partnership in the community.”

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