The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 1:00 am

EACS doesn't wait on stipends

Federal relief funds OK'd for employees

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

The East Allen County Schools board Tuesday didn't want to wait two weeks to endorse Superintendent Marilyn Hissong's request to spend federal coronavirus relief dollars on $500 and $1,000 stipends for employees.

“OK, let's just do this tonight,” board President Todd Buckmaster said when board members embraced Gayle Etzler's suggestion to act immediately on what was presented as a discussion-only item.

Collectively, employees will get about $1,193,500, with individual awards based on part-time and full-time status. Those employed May 14 are eligible.

“We wanted to do this for our staff,” Hissong said. “It took everyone to make this happen this year.”

The money comes from the district's $2 million allocation announced last spring as part of the federal coronavirus relief package. EACS also spent the funding – which was followed by additional allocations – on items including personal protective equipment, Hissong said.

The superintendent thanked the board for supporting staff.

“They work tirelessly,” she said.

Similar action is possible at Fort Wayne Community Schools, which was awarded more than $50 million in the first two rounds of coronavirus relief funding. About $101 million in another allocation was announced Monday.

“We are currently considering (stipends) as an option, but haven't finalized who would be eligible or how much would be given,” FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said by email Tuesday.

Southwest Allen County Schools devoted almost all its first round of funding to support its food services department, which enabled the district to feed students during the stay-at-home order last spring, spokeswoman Stacey Fleming said. Discussions are underway about how to best spend the other allocations, she added.

Northwest Allen County Schools has used the federal dollars on reopening schools, hiring a social worker and supporting remote instruction, spokeswoman Lizette Downey said. Decisions haven't been made about the latest allocation.

Hissong, the EACS superintendent, said she is grateful parents have entrusted the district with their children during the pandemic.

Some parents, however, want the 10,000-student district to adjust its COVID-19 protocols. Specifically, they want EACS to become a “mask choice” district despite the governor mandating masks in K-12 schools through the end of the academic year.

Four sets of Leo parents advocated for masks becoming optional while four educators argued for facial coverings. They spoke during public comment, which was limited to three minutes a person.

Teachers union President Andra Kosmoski cited the results of a survey that concluded Monday, saying about 83% of East Allen Educators Association members believe the district should follow the governor's school mask mandate.

“While the coronavirus hasn't shown to cause serious issues for a large percentage of our teachers and an even larger percentage of our students, one serious case is too many for East Allen County,” Kosmoski said, “and unfortunately, we have had several.”

Parents said they are being stripped of their parental rights. They also pointed out vaccines are readily available, so it's time to make masks optional.

A similar debate recently arose in NACS, which is having a work session today about the protocols with input from medical professionals. It starts at 6 p.m. in the Carroll High School cafeteria and will not include public comment.

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