North Kansas City Schools (NKC Schools) has been back in session for a little more than two months. Grades K-5 are learning in person five days a week, and more than two-thirds of students in grades 6-12 are doing a hybrid—two days of in-person classes, three days of remote learning—while the remaining third opted for full-time distance learning. Student activities are also up and running.
For Missouri’s third-largest school district, fall re-opening plans centered on getting things back to “normal” for its 21,000 students, arming teachers for success across multiple learning scenarios, and putting processes in place to mitigate risk for students, staff, and families—and to put them at ease.
“To ensure a smooth semester amid threats that spiking cases of COVID-19 could push our schools back into a fully virtual scenario, NKC Schools has taken a thoughtful approach to maximizing and supporting our total workforce, including non-teaching staff,” says Tanya Hirsch, the district’s payroll coordinator. “Ensuring all staff members’ needs are met and their livelihoods are protected are among our chief concerns—and technology aids this effort.”
Increasing support for non-teacher staff
Despite district-wide understaffing, classes and student programs are thriving. This is in large credit to the district’s all-hands effort to make the school year as normal and enriching as possible for students.
“We have been hyper-focused on making sure that our non-teaching staff feels supported throughout all of this,” says Hirsch. “These are employees who serve essential functions that are necessary to keep our schools running.”
That’s right: No matter what the remainder of the school year brings, students still need to eat. Foodservice staff are preparing breakfast and lunch for in-person and remote learners (who can order online and come pickup), and in September 2020 only saw a 24% drop in meals served over September 2019.
Transportation staff provide another essential service and are back to running their full routes despite the drop in in-person attendance. But special considerations were needed to ensure this departments’ safety: “To avoid clustering in our transportation hubs around the timeclocks, we found a technology that allows our drivers to effectively ‘punch in’ to their shift once they board their bus, and transmits the data back to our district-wide workforce management system,” comments Hirsch. “It’s a necessary solution for this new COVID era. It’s a move that encourages social distancing and is protecting our drivers and their riders.”
Getting granular with workforce management technology
How a district manages its workforce can impact everything from budget to engagement—both of which have never been more important. Technically speaking, NKC Schools uses a district-wide workforce management system for tracking employee time, leave, and accruals. Historically this process has been fully automated but has become far more intensive in recent months as multiple new COVID-related pay codes have been added to the system.
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“We have added six new pay codes in the past month,” says Hirsch, emphasizing that this is a significant increase compared to the prior six years during which time her team had added just a single new pay code. The new pay codes account for things like HR-approved work-from-home assignments or tracking time in accordance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
In order to apply federal and state funds to provide emergency paid sick leave (EPSL), the district is working hard to educate staff about how to properly code their time-off. The district leave specialist is helping this effort by calling staff and explaining the process to them. At the same time, payroll administrators are reviewing timecards for potential errors and making corrections where needed to ensure staff members aren’t using their personal days if they did in fact take time off to get tested.
“It’s important that staff are paid accurately and that we are able to properly maximize the funding at our disposal. That’s the bottom line, and that’s what our workforce management technology is helping us achieve,” adds Hirsch.
Easing concerns through contact tracing and case management
To date, the North Kansas City School District has had a relatively smooth start to the school year. As of October 31, student attendance is at 91% and staff attendance is at 93.7%. A COVID-19 dashboard is updated every Friday by the district to identify the total number of “new student positive cases” and “new staff positive cases,” as well as week-over-week metrics for students and staff required to stay home. The data also highlights whether exposures were thought to have taken place on- or off-campus.
The district’s health coordinator—a new role created this year with grant funds—helps to oversee these metrics and is the point person for all school buildings should someone report symptoms. This role manages the complex responsibilities of contact tracing for the district, including notification procedures.
Looking ahead, NKC Schools will continue to monitor engagement and follow guidance from its principals, cabinet, and COVID-19 gating criteria committee as they chart a safe path forward for staff, students, and families. “We’ve laid the groundwork for a successful school year and our staff remains agile in their ability to change course as needed. Like every other school district in America, we’re doing the best we can,” concludes Hirsch.
Tanya Hirsch is the payroll coordinator for North Kansas City Schools located in Kansas City, Missouri. She joined the district in 2012 after receiving her B.A. in library and information science from Chadron State College. Rob Tibbs is the K-12 industry principal at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group). Prior to joining the company in 2014, Tibbs was the assistant director of finance/payroll for the Jefferson County Board of Education in Birmingham, Alabama.