As COVID-19 cases remain above 800 in the Columbia County School District, Dr. Steven Flynt says the biggest strain has been the number of staff absences. Those absences have resulted in employees having to fill in for one another, the superintendent said at Tuesday night's Board of Education work session.
In its weekly report released Friday, 719 students and 148 employees had tested positive.
Despite the increases in absences, Flynt said Tuesday the district believes that numbers will begin to decline in the coming weeks and that in-person learning is still the best option.
"If there's anything we've learned though is the importance of in-person learning," he said.
The work session model of the meeting gave department heads and associate superintendents the opportunity to update the board and community about upcoming initiatives and plans including the ongoing struggle of filling vacant positions.
Chief Human Resource Officer Tony Wright said the school district is in the best position it has been all year for staffing.
There are four certified jobs open in the school district. On non-certified positions, approximately 93% of positions have been filled, though the district continues to struggle with finding bus drivers, Wright said.
The district is continuing to look at pay for non-certified positions and the stipend employees received has helped with recruitment, Wright said.
"That went a long way in attracting some folks and got us really healthy in some areas," he said.
The board in October approved a $1,000 one-time stipend for full-time certified employees and a pro-rated stipend for non-certified employees with $4 million expected to be distributed. New hires would also receive a $500 stipend one month after their start date and an additional $500 in June if they are still employed with the district.
Staff members also went over the district's strategic five-year plan. The plan will be reviewed by principals and go back before the board for further review in late February or early March after edits are made.
This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Staff absences have been strain, Columbia County schools chief says