State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala has directed local school districts to continue making payments to their contractors, so all transportation personnel including school bus drivers and monitors can continue getting paid, despite schools closing buildings for the remainder of the year and canceling in-person instruction, moving to an online distance learning model, statewide and most normal school bus routes ceasing in response to the coronavirus.
The announcement came a day after all U.S. governors received a letter from the National School Transportation Association asking them to mandate that funding continues to all school bus contractors during the pandemic.
Ayala confirmed in an email sent Tuesday evening that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) will continue to base transportation reimbursement on allowable company expenditures.
“If school districts choose to negotiate and execute a contract amendment with their school bus contractors to make payments during the closure to ensure transportation personnel will be paid in full, those expenditures will be reimbursed for state transportation reimbursement,” she explained.
Ayala added that districts should still consult with their attorneys.
The rate of state transportation reimbursement was not immediately clear. ISBE had not responded to an email sent by School Transportation News on Wednesday, and the agency’s phone lines were not accepting calls or messages at this report.
STN also sent emails and text messages to several contractors that operate in the state to seek clarification.
She said many of the 1,500 school administrators who attended an ISBE webinar on the coronavirus earlier in the day had similar questions about school bus contractor payments.
Meanwhile, the state’s 4,173 school campuses closed on Tuesday, according to Education Week, which also reported Wednesday that 39 states have now closed school.
Also on Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, ISBE and the leading Illinois education associations issued a joint statement that “Act of God Days” are in effect through the end of the month. This means all school district employees are already being guaranteed to receive paychecks for “normal work” through March 30.
“…[A]ll school district employees on the district’s payroll will get paid as if the schools were functioning normally, regardless of the district plans developed during this time,” Pritzker said in the statement. “These school days will not be made up. All employees will get paid as if they did all the normal work they would have done if schools were functioning normally. Normal pay includes salary, hourly and stipend pay, benefits, and employees will receive full and normal service credit in their pension systems.”
He added that details of the work must be agreed upon, with negotiations focusing on continuity of education for students, providing meals and “other student support measures.”
Editor’s note—A previous article incorrectly stated the school year in Arizona and other states was canceled.