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School Committee gives hourly workers paid leave, delays decision on bus contract

The School Committee voted unanimously Monday to place the school district’s hourly, non-unionized staff on paid leave during the school shutdown, following the recommendation of the state education commissioner.

“This is our hourly staff that we value greatly,” School Superintendent Linda Dwight said, speaking of the custodians, learning assistants, kindergarten aides, cafeteria workers, and office personnel. Their pay is already covered in the current budget.

Support for the proposal was immediate. Committee member Sharlene Cronin said, “This is the right thing to do. These are our people.” And member Suzie Allen said the action would help reduce the impact of the shutdown, as well as keeping staff ready to come back as soon as schools reopen. In its motion, the committee followed the legal wording recommended by the education commissioner, which allows asking hourly workers to come in if needed while schools are closed.

The committee also considered whether to continue to pay Dee Bus Service, the contractor that provides transportation for Harvard students. Dwight said the state commissioner had not yet given districts guidance on dealing with independent contractors. She also pointed out that the bus drivers were Dee’s employees, not Harvard’s, and Dee might decide to lay them off even if Harvard paid the company. Dwight said a lawyer is reviewing the contract, which is written for 180 days of service from the company.

The committee voted—again unanimously—to take no action on the bus contract payment, pending the state recommendation and legal advice.

School administrators across Massachusetts were expecting to hear from the state commissioner this week as to how long schools should plan to remain closed. Dwight asked the School Committee to prepare for a closure extending well beyond April 6, the date originally set by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The School Committee meeting was among the town’s first to be held online, with participants and observers signing in from their home computers or other devices. The proceedings got off to a rocky start when the number posted with the agenda on the town website proved to be incorrect. However, committee member Cronin appeared on that site and redirected people to the correct meeting number. From then on, the virtual meeting went smoothly, with good audio and visual reception; it was more audible, in fact, than meetings often are in Town Hall.

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