Stitt will order schools to pay all support staff despite loss of hours

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Sack meals are passed out at Rockwood Elementary in Oklahoma City on March 23. Many schools across the state continue to distribute breakfast and lunch during the state’s closure of all public schools. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

Gov. Kevin Stitt is expected to order all public schools to continue paying support staff who have lost the ability to work due to the statewide closure of school buildings. 

The state Board of Education voted last week to close all school buildings for the remainder of the academic year and for districts to launch distance learning programs. State law requires teachers and administrators be fully compensated if a school is closed for health reasons. 

However, the state’s 40,000 school support personnel, which includes custodians, teacher’s aides and bus drivers, are not granted the same protections as they receive pay only for the hours they work. 

In a letter obtained by The Frontier, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister asked Stitt to authorize public school districts to pay support staff for the remainder of their contract period. 

Stitt is expected to announce his order Thursday afternoon, according to multiple sources. 

“We were hopeful of a legislative solution which would resolve any uncertainty on this question and parallel the protections afforded to teachers and administrators in public schools and to state employees, but that solution no longer seems feasible as a result of the pandemic and its affects on the Legislature,” Hofmeister wrote in her letter.

Hofmeister said schools won’t need additional funding to pay support staff as they are already included in the current fiscal year budget. The state’s current fiscal year funding for schools will not change.  

Some districts have been paying support staff, including cafeteria staff who are still working to provide student meals. But Hofmeister said that is not the case for all schools.

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Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
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