Wolf Creek Schools wants a handle on disability costs

High payouts for sick leave have left Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) seeking a way to manage the situation.

High payouts for sick leave have left Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) seeking a way to manage the situation.

In 2013, WCPS paid $561,000 in sick leave up to 90 days, explained Jayson Lovell, assistant superintendent for people services. “We’ve had to top up the amount and actually grow it a little bit.”

He asked trustees during the Dec. 17 board meeting to approve contracting Eric Hemming, of Hemming Disability Management Services, for six months.

“This is a very proactive approach,” said Lovell.

He feels WCPS has a responsibility to help staff who may be taking many sick days. He wants the Alberta Teacher’s Association to be part of the process so that the group understands the motivation behind hiring Hemming, which Lovell estimates to bring a cost at $40,000.

Typically when an employee takes time off, they tend to drift away from the organization and Lovell wants to see how WCPS can bridge that gap. “Employees literally drift off into a place where they’re disconnected.”

He feels WCPS can help employees keep their job and benefits with a proactive approach to helping them. If staff go into long-term disability, past 90 days, they take approximately 30 per cent pay cut but it the school division can help bring them back to work within 90 days there is some benefit to them and WCPS.

Tracking how well this plan works, and whether it saves money, will prove a challenge but Lovell intends to give trustees month-to-month information regarding the number staff on disability and sick leave. Hemming and Lovell will meet with trustees after six months with results. “The duration of absence, I think, will be decreased,” said Lovell.

Lovell wants Hemming to be as proactive as possible with staff and if this program does well, he hopes for a long-term plan.

Trustee Bob Huff asked if the job is too demanding for staff who go on disability. “How are we going to deal with that?”

Lovell believes there will be a more proactive approach in communicating with staff and he hopes to ensure workers stay connected to their job. “There will be a comprehensive communication plan (for staff) to know this support is available to them.”

An early intervention program at WCPS is another tool meant to help, Lovell said, but it has not been used much. There has not been the means to provide early intervention in the division and this program should address that issue.

“I anticipate this early intervention program will be accessed a lot more frequently,” said Lovell.

Trustee Lorrie Jess’s worry was having another person at the WCPS offices and the feedback from people.

“We have to communicate it in a way that there’s understanding in the intent and purpose of this,” replied Lovell. “The secondary part, I think, is critical is the benefit to the employees.”

Many organizations are now realizing the importance of disability management, he added. “It’s an investment in our people and organization.”

If implemented correctly, Lovell believes WCPS will save money and help staff.

Trustee Barb Walker favored the request as she feels when teachers go on disability, this negatively affects the students as well. With this program, trustees will also have better information regarding sick leave without making assumptions.

Huff agreed. “It can provide us with some proactive planning down the road.”

Money to hire Hemming will come from WCPS’s disability fund.