PNG changes sick leave program

Published 6:50 pm Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Employees with the Port Neches-Groves Independent School District now have a chance at a different, more lenient program to better help during a time of need.

The district’s Catastrophic Sick Leave Committee recently polled it members about changing to a Friends Helping Friends Program, an issue that passed overwhelmingly. Trustees approved the change during a recent board meeting.

“The new method would provide all full-time employees with more flexibility to aid co-workers in need of days,” Assistant Superintendent Mike Gonzales said.

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The key term that made the CSL problematic was the term “catastrophic.”

“We were excluding people and there are some who have a legitimate reason to request catastrophic however, the catastrophic label stated the issue had to be a life threatening event or illness, he said. “Friends Helping Friends was recommended several years ago but we never got around to changing or transitioning catastrophic to Friends Helping Friends. We now believe it’s the perfect time to do so.”

The main difference between CSL and FHF is with CSL there was a pool where sick days were added. Anyone participating could use the days as long as the reason was due to a catastrophic event. The CSL district guidelines required a minimum of 500 days in the bank and the district has about 863 days in that bank and plan to give two days back to every person who gave days in both 2012 and 2015. Those who only gave one day in 2015 will receive on day in return. Approximately 80 days will be left in the catastrophic sick leave bank and will be accessible to all catastrophic members until they are gone.

The current catastrophic committee members will manage the days and requests until al the days are gone and the program is disbanded. They will also help form the new program, he said.

The district is looking towards its neighbors in Nederland Independent School District who have had a FHF program in place for more than a decade. Once guidelines are set, the program should “run itself.”

Roxanne Fergusson, committee chairperson and teacher at Groves Elementary School, is pleased with the change.

“When you look at the definition of catastrophic it refers to a life threatening condition or event. That’s the key. But we have had people in the district where things have come up that are not life threatening but need to use those days,” Ferguson said.

An example, she said, would be if a doctor requires bed rest for a pregnant person. That person is expecting to be out for a certain number of weeks then comes the news she will have to take six or eight more weeks off work due to her condition.

“Under catastrophic we can’t really help them because it’s not life threatening,” she said. “The committee and catastrophic has done wonders for our members battling cancer or whose spouses are battling an illness but sometimes there are extenuating circumstances.”

Ferguson said the change to FHF is very positive for teachers and a win-win situation.

NISD Assistant Superintendent Mike Laird said FHF allows friends and colleagues to donate days. This helps the employee not have to shoulder a financial burden by being docked pay.

Most teachers, he said, receive five sick days form the state and another five from the district. Days are carried over through the years until it reaches a maximum cap. Laird did not specify the amount of the cap.

With FHF, the donor of sick days is anonymous so there is no pressure for people to give days.

Under NISD’s FHF program, the maximum number of days received by an employee may not exceed 180 days during the school year, defined as being from July 1 through June 30 of the following year. An employee may donate an unlimited amount of days as long as there is a minimum of 30 days in their leave bank.

Employees have the option of where they want to participate or not and NISD’s donor program is based on good will.

Gonzales said the district is in the process of transitioning to the new program.

“Once we set the guidelines, we believe it should handle itself,” Gonzales said.

Mary Meaux: 409-721-2429

Twitter: @MaryMeauxPANews