Written by STEVE OSTERMANN
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 18:36
Budget deficit prompts board to consider cutting 12-week employee benefit
The Grafton School District is poised to fine-tune its policy on employees’ use of sick days for family medical leave as a cost-saving step in the face of a projected budget deficit for the 2015-16 year.
The School Board last week discussed changing the practice of allowing as many as 12 paid weeks for employees who take paternity leave, including capping the benefit at six weeks.
The change was suggested by Supt. Mel Lightner, who said it would help pare personnel costs.
“This is a cost-control measure,” Lightner told the board. “It’s trying to put some controls on something for the next three, four or five years down the road.”
Lightner and Director of Business Services Kristin Sobocinski asked the board to reconsider its July 2014 decision permitting employees to use up to 12 weeks of sick leave annually under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act for the birth, adoption or foster care of a child or the serious health condition of a family member.
The Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act requires six weeks of paid paternity leave, but that leave must begin within 16 weeks of a child’s birth or adoption.
Lightner said that, although only three district employees have used sick leave after the 16-week period under the current policy, each 12 weeks of leave costs the district about $13,000 per employee.
“We dealt with this last year, but we have a $1 million budget deficit now,” he told the board. “People are going to lose their jobs, and we have to look at all our options.”
Grafton High School teacher James Johnson defended the current policy, which he said gives employees flexibility in scheduling family leave. He said he was one of the teachers who took paternity leave after the 16-week period, but only because he didn’t want to disrupt his classroom duties.
Johnson urged the board to stand by its 2014 decision or at least allow current employees with pending paternity-leave plans to be grandfathered under that policy.
“The blending of federal and state laws has worked,” Johnson said.
Lightner said he supports the grandfathering idea, as well as allowing employees to take six weeks paid leave after the 16-week period. Additional time off for family leave should be unpaid, he said.
The board took no formal action on Lightner’s proposal, but member Paul Lorge voiced support for the change.
“It’s an underlying tenet of Act 10,” said Lorge, who noted the budget law is “asking districts to look at making these decisions.”
The board is expected to consider revising its family medical leave policy May 11.
As part of the change, Lightner recommended that employees who apply for 12 weeks of paid leave for paternity reasons before July 1 should be allowed that benefit for the 2015-16 school year.