After the school board made its decision last week to close Belgrade High School for the rest of the month due to staffing shortages, it this week pondered the question of how to reward staff and substitutes for stepping in to help keep schools running during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district’s Human Resources Director John Blackman told the board at its regular meeting Monday that some districts have instituted extra incentives to address staffing shortages during the pandemic. Bozeman schools, for example, are offering substitutes an additional $40 per day to substitutes in hopes of motivating them to accept assignments.

All area districts draw from the same pool of substitutes, which is much smaller this year than it has been in the past, Blackman said.

“Generally we carry about 130 in our sub pool – we’re down to 80 this year,” he said in a special meeting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, district employees are going above and beyond the call of duty to fill in where they can, he said. During the meeting, BHS Principal Shanna Smith said three high school staff members would be working at Ridgeview Elementary this week in an effort to prevent that school from having to close, as well.

Blackman explained, “The problem with the pandemic is not high case numbers, but if we have one person test positive for COVID, you may have several people out because they’re required to quarantine.

“It’s a bit of a juggle,” he added. “The one thing we don’t want to lose sight of is our staff has been absolutely amazing.”

Blackman said the teachers union has suggested awarding additional personal days to teachers who have stepping into classes to cover for absent teachers during their planning periods, but administrators worry that would exacerbate the existing staff shortage.

During discussion, board members were receptive to the idea of somehow rewarding staff for helping with staffing shortages, as well as with incentivizing substitutes to accept district assignments, but they took no action.

Building and district administrators repeatedly praised both the district’s certified and classified staff for their efforts.

“We’re in our 10th week now and haven’t had a lot of closures,” Blackman said. “For the most part, we’ve been able to stay open largely due to staff stepping up to the plate. They’ve come to the table to help us solve the problem.”

Also during Monday’s meeting, the board considered a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the district and Gallatin County Board of Health that would grant the district with the authority to conduct contact tracing and issue quarantines for the staff. The board directed the administration to have the document reviewed by the district’s lawyers in advance of a special board meeting to be held this morning, Nov. 12, at 7 a.m., where they will vote on whether to adopt it.