PARIS — Superintendent Monica Henson told Maine School Administrative District 17 directors Monday night that there were 497 staff absences in September, but only a few were due to quarantining because of potential exposure to COVID-19.

“I am concerned about the number of absences of staff in our school buildings,” she said. “We have had a shortage of substitute teachers.”

The Oxford Hills School District has 599 staff members, Henson said. They serve schools in Norway, Paris, Otisfield, Oxford, Harrison, Hebron, Waterford and West Paris.

“My concern (is) that over time I am hopeful we will not see patterns of the same employees using sick time on a regular basis,” she said. The lack of an employee manual that details reasons and requirements for absences has made it difficult to establish expectations, the superintendent said.

Henson said she will review the absentee numbers every month.

Director Bob Jewell of Paris asked if it’s possible to extrapolate the total number of hours the absences represent.

Hensen said she could.

Board Vice Chairman Jared Cash of Norway asked for confirmation that the daily absentee rate represents 4% of the staff, while Director Lew Williams of Hebron wanted clarification if absences might be for one person over a week.

Henson acknowledged their questions and said she was sharing raw numbers with no context or historical data to compare yet.

Oxford Hills Middle School Principal Brian Desilets concurred that 4% absenteeism was higher than he wants to see, but said that for the past 18 months people have been encouraged to stay home if they are not feeling well.

Guy E. Rowe Principal Doug Kilmister added that many employees have school-age children who have had to quarantine, creating child care issues.

Others pointed out that issues such as mental health and staff morale have been affecting educators across the country since the pandemic.

Otisfield Community School Principal Jessika Sheldrick said she and her leadership team are discussing rebuilding morale to pre-COVID times.

“Teachers and staff are saying that they are significantly overwhelmed this year,” Sheldrick said. “My guess is that there is correlation here.”

In other business, Chief Financial Officer Carrie Colley and federal programs Director Melanie Ellsworth gave updates.

Colley said the recently hired human resources generalist is reviewing employee manuals for guidance ahead of the district creating one. She said cash flow has been sufficient to meet payments so she has not drawn from a loan the district got at the start of the school year.

Ellsworth gave a summary of student summer programs for all grades and the return of learning coaches and special education supports to in-person learning.

Principals Desilets, Kilmister and Sheldrick reported on highlights since the start of the school year, including fall sports, progress on trauma-informed practices, and ongoing work to support teachers and reinforce positive behaviors of students.


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