Schools adjust to law, scheduling alterations

Herald Staff Writer

Local schools have been operating for about one month now with reduced hours for part-time staff, which has presented some new scheduling challenges.

Administrators at Northeast, Southeast and Southwest Dubois school corporations were forced to cut down on work time for dozens of employees when the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act rules took effect this summer. Schools were informed in January that their staff members would fall under the jurisdiction of a new law requiring employers to provide health benefits for anyone working more than 30 hours per week. Effective Jan. 1, the government will impose a $2,000 penalty per full-time employee who is not offered health insurance.

Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang said the process of cutting back hours for part-time instructional assistants, cooks and custodians has been “difficult and challenging.” Before the reduction, the corporation had 52 employees who worked work between 30 and 40 hours a week.

“Our administrators, teachers and assistants have been very creative in their approach to this. Assistants are coming in and leaving at different times throughout the day,” Hochgesang said. “It is not the best situation, but we are forced to live within our means. It has definitely been a struggle to schedule.”

Hochgesang added that because some instructional assistants are unable to be in the classroom as often as they were in prior years, teachers have had to take on more responsibilities for one-on-one and small group instruction for the students.

“Even more burden has been put on our teaching staff as they have had to take on additional duties and do without their assistants at times during the day,” he explained. “Our assistants have shown their dedication to our school corporation by cooperating in our efforts to meet this challenge.”

Brenda Feguson, the principal at Dubois and Celestine elementary schools, agreed that teamwork is necessary to make up for the reduced hours of 16 instructional assistants in her buildings.
“Everyone is working together as a team to fill in the gaps,” she said. “I am very thankful for the team approach taken in our schools.”

Southwest Dubois School Corp. Superintendent Mike Eineman said one of the biggest disappointments for part-time staff members is that because their hours are so restricted, many can no longer take tickets or work concessions at school sporting events. He said several staff members looked forward to their extra jobs as gatekeepers at football games, but the athletic department has had to find outside workers to full those positions now.

“It’s going as smoothly as possible,” he said of the change.

Eineman said the board has had to hire some additional workers to fill in the hours they have lost. About 30 had their hours decreased this year, which may have contributed to a large number of part-time staff resignations over the summer, though Eineman said increased turnover is to be expected in July and August.

Southwest Dubois food service director Ora Lee Cotton-Ahl said 11 of her cafeteria workers have lost hours from their work schedules. She said the employees were informed last week that they will no longer receive holiday pay because they now work fewer than 30 hours.

Forest Park Junior-Senior High School Principal Jeff Jessee said eight employees were effected by the corporation’s cutbacks. He, like other local principals, is responsible for scheduling instructional assistants and other part-time workers so that jobs get done. The Southeast Dubois School Corp. also chose to solve the problem by having some staff members work the earlier hours in the day and having others come in late and stay late. About 50 staff members corporationwide were affected.

“We have made adjustments to schedules for our instructional assistants,” Jessee said. “No one likes the reduced hours due to Obamacare, but we are making it work.”

North Spencer School Corp. did not reduce hours for staff members this year because the corporation began hiring employees at less than 30 hours per week five years ago; those employees do not receive health benefits. Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools already provided health benefits for part-time workers and therefore did not make any staffing changes.

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