School bus stock file photo

File photo

East Baton Rouge Parish school superintendent Sito Narcisse wants to start the 2021-22 school year early as a way of catching up schoolchildren who’ve fallen behind academically during the coronavirus pandemic. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about Narcisse’s proposal, which he’s calling Smart Start:

Q: When would the 2021-22 school year start for students?

A: Students would return Wednesday, July 28, rather than Monday, August 9, as currently planned. Their summer break would end 12 calendar days earlier, and they would have eight more days in school.

Q: When would the 2021-22 school year start for employees?

A: Classroom teachers and paraprofessionals would start Monday, July 19, rather than Monday, Aug. 2. So their summer break ends 14 days early and they have 10 more days of work. School administrators who get summers off would start Monday, July 12. Deans of students who work nine months of the year would be most affected; their summer break ends 21 days early and they have 15 more days of work. Support workers, including bus drivers, school clerks and food service workers, would not start until Monday, July 26. So their summer break ends seven days early, equating to five more days of work. No change for school administrators and staff who aren't off during the summer.

Q: Is employee attendance required for these additional days?

A: Yes and no. Employees are expected to report to work those days, but if they don’t come, they won’t lose sick leave or other leave they have. Employees who skip, however, won’t get paid for the days they miss.

Q: Is student attendance required for these additional days?

A: Yes. Absences will be counted. The district plans to offer a “hardship waiver” for students with special circumstances, but details are still being worked out.

Q: How much will staff be paid for these extra days?

A: Employees will receive their regular daily rate of pay for the days worked during Smart Start. This has been a point of confusion, with some employees incorrectly thinking they would receive only a flat $25 per hour for their time on those extra days.

Q: What is the purpose of a $1,300 stipend the superintendent has mentioned?

A: The stipend is a way of showing appreciation to active employees who worked the 2020-21 school year by recognizing “the dedication of employees who sacrificed so much for students during this most challenging year.”

Q: When will employees receive the one-time stipend?

A: August.

Q: Who will receive the $1,300 stipend?

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

A:. All active, full-time employees who worked from Oct. 1, 2020 to May 22 of this year but who took off no more than 20 days of work during the 2020-22 school year. Employees who used the special COVID leave won’t be penalized. These employees also must remain active until at least August when the stipend is to be paid out.

Q: Who won’t receive the $1,300 stipend?

A: Employees hired after May 22. Current employees who missed more than 20 days of work during the current school year. Current employees who resign before the stipend is paid out in August. Employees who retire between May and August are not currently eligible for the stipend, because accepting the stipend after retiring would provoke financial penalties from their pension plans, but school officials are looking into other ways to pay retirees the stipend.

Q. Who else will get a stipend?

A: Part-time employees, substitutes who worked at least 100 days, and employees on sabbatical or who took more than 20 days of sick leave will receive $650, half the stipend that full time employees receive.

Q: How much will all this cost?

A: The estimated cost of Smart Start is $20 million and the estimated cost of the stipend is an additional $9 million.

Q: Where will the money come from?

A: For Smart Start, it’s federal COVID relief money, specifically the American Rescue Plan approved by U.S. Congress last month. East Baton Rouge is slated to receive $144.6 million from the federal act, $28.9 million of it right away. For the stipend, it’s coming from the district’s general operating fund.

Q. Why is the stipend being paid in August rather than the current school year?

A. School officials say in order to have sufficient money to cover the stipend they need to wait until the new fiscal year starts in July so they can settle their 2020-21 books.

Q What will happen with summer school?

A: Dates are being adjusted so that summer school does not conflict with staff returning to work on July 19. Details are still being worked out.

Q: What choices will be available to students who want virtual-only instruction next school year as they've been able to do this school year?

A: All students interested in virtual-only instruction will need to enroll in the EBR Virtual Academy, open to students who wish to learn virtually. All other school-based virtual-only instruction will be discontinued. The virtual academy, currently only for high schoolers, is to be expanded to K-12, but details are still being worked out.

Q: Where is more information available? 

A: For answers to more questions, go here to a FAQ maintained by the parish school system: https://ebrschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Smart-Start-FAQ.pdf


Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.