FORT KENT, Maine — The SAD 27 school board is the first in Aroostook County to consider whether district employees should be paid incentive money to get vaccinated.
Superintendent Ben Sirois suggested a one-time payment of $500 for full-time employees and a $250 payment to part-time employees who get the COVID-19 vaccination when he presented the plan to the board Tuesday. The payments will also be given to any employee who has already been vaccinated.
“I want to make a best effort to encourage before we have to force because I never want to tell an employee they don’t have a job anymore because they decided not to get a shot,” Sirois said.
Sirois’ proposal comes as school districts around the country increasingly use federal COVID-19 stimulus money to encourage vaccinations.
Funding for the vaccination incentive program would come from the federal American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding of just over $1.8 million that SAD 27 will receive out of $122.8 billion allocated to schools nationwide.
At least 20 percent of the funding must be used to address learning loss created by COVID-19. The remainder can be used to prevent, prepare for and respond to the pandemic.
The SAD 27 interim plan calls for an elementary student-centered learning coach, middle school academic interventionist and district-wide summer, after-school and vacation academic support to address learning loss needs.
Projects to help the schools operate during COVID-19 include classroom furniture aimed at promoting social distancing, the hiring of floating substitute teachers across the district, district curriculum projects to support in-person, hybrid and remote learning, and facility and technology improvements.
If every unvaccinated staff member were to become vaccinated, it would cost just under $100,000. The proposed incentive program is an allowable use of the funds, Sirois said.
At the direction of President Joe Biden, Occupational Safety and Health Administration will formulate a standard under which school districts within OSHA-regulated states, including Maine, with 100 workers or more will require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing for the virus.
SAD 27, which includes Fort Kent Elementary School, Valley Rivers Middle School and Fort Kent Community High School, employs 170 full-time and 10 part-time staff members, almost 80 percent of whom are vaccinated against COVID-19. This is higher than the statewide average of 75.59 percent. Only 56.1 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
“We’re thinking this is another creative way to give an incentive to employees but also thank them for just doing their job and getting vaccinated as we have been asking and, hopefully, maybe there’s a couple employees that are holding on that maybe this will encourage them to go ahead and get vaccinated,” Sirois said.
SAD 27 and other school districts within Maine with 100 or more employees will have no say in whether they require employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19, or submit to weekly testing for the virus, once the OSHA emergency temporary standard takes effect.
Board Chairman Gary Sibley criticized the proposal.
“You look around the country [at] how many doctors and nurses are giving up their jobs,” he said. “There’s so many issues with [the vaccine]. Why should we not be rewarding someone who wants to not be vaccinated? I think we should come up with other ideas. Why should we incentivize something so controversial?”
“I don’t think doing the right thing is controversial,” board member Keith Jandreau Jr. said.
The board voted to support the district’s interim Use of Funds plan for the ARP money, but is currently undecided regarding the vaccine incentive program project included in the plan. The topic will be revisited at a future school board meeting.