Savannah-Chatham board mulls incentives for teachers returning to in-person learning options

Savannah-Chatham board mulls incentives for teachers returning to in-person learning options

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - With a highly debated vote Wednesday, the Savannah-Chatham School Board voted to begin Phase 3 of the hybrid, in-person learning plan on Oct. 26.

District leaders say registration for those families could begin as early as Thursday night. But with that said, right now, only 38 percent of the classroom teachers opted to return to the building.

This is likely to cause long waitlists for face-to-face learning. The board worked to address this during their meeting.

Phase 2 in-person learning began just this week and so far, there are more than 600 students on the waitlist because of a shortage of staff ready to return. With that said, the board approved to move forward with Phase 3, but it’s unclear how many students they can accommodate.

“The key log is are you going to require that staff returns to the building. That’s the key. I will also invite you to look at the previous presentations I’ve mad, I’m not been confused at all. I had two, three dates when I expected everyone to be back in,” SCCPSS Superintendent Dr. Ann Levett said.

While Dr. Levett had plans, it was the school board who decided to give teaches an option to return to their classroom or remain virtual. But they again debated what they should do after seeing less than 1,000 returned.

“In July, when we said we we’re going to go to online school, I wanted teachers at that time to come back. I thought that was a critical first step to get teachers back in the building. So, I continue to support bringing teachers who don’t have a valid medical reason to come in,” Board member Julie Wade said.

“I’m not going to demand that anyone come back before green. The challenge, for which I think there really does need to be an answer, is how do you make staff want to come when the risk is high,” Board member Dr. Dionne Hoskins-Brown said.

The board then began a lengthy discussion on incentivizing staff return. They discussed the possibility of using money, time-off, equipment and more. While they were unable to decide what this would look like, they did unanimously approve a motion allowing the superintend to explore the idea and create a plan if possible.

“I thought that a small monetary incentive might be worth that to a teacher, or to any other staff member really, to come back especially when I am willing to assure them that pretty much our buildings are safe,” Board member Cornelia Hall said.

One Savannah-Chatham middle school teacher says she appreciates having a choice, but an incentive will not bring her back.

“There’s no amount of money that you can pay me to go and put my life at risk or to put my health at risk. You can throw $500, you can throw $5,000, you could throw $50,000. I am going to continue to do what I do, teach, work every day, right here, remotely so that I can be safe and so that my children can be safe,” Porschia Mitchell said.

While Mitchell won’t take advantage of an incentive, she says she’s thankful for the board’s action to support them.

“I’m so grateful that SCCPSS thought enough of teachers to make sure that we were given a voice,” Mitchell said.

District officials were asked what exactly that timeline and process would look like for an incentive plan, but WTOC is still waiting to hear the details.

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