The Warren County School Board took a step Wednesday in an effort to address a shortage of substitute teachers.

Board members voted 4-0 in favor of a motion to approve rates of $10 per hour and $50 per day for instructional assistants who cover for classroom teachers when no substitute is available.

The division can use money in the budget for substitute teachers to compensate employees who serve as assistants.

Superintendent Christopher Ballenger said the administration needed the board to establish the pay rates for the instructional assistants. Ballenger and board members discussed the proposed rates at a work session last month.

Finding substitute teachers remains a challenge for the division, Ballenger said. Administrators, he said, see employees serving “sacrificially” to meet the needs of students and staff members.

When a teacher is absent, schools must first try to find a substitute through the division’s contracted company that provides the substitutes. Substitutes filled in for absent teachers at a rate of between 40-50% last week, according to information provided to the board. If schools cannot find a substitute for a classroom position, then administrators work with available employees to provide instructional coverage.

Vice Chairwoman Catherine R. Bower and board members Melanie C. Salins, Ralph A. Rinaldi and James S. Wells attended the meeting. Member Kristen J. Pence did not attend the meeting.

Also at the meeting, board members voted to:

• Allow the Technology Department to buy computers and a server from Dell Technologies at a cost not to exceed $186,830. The purchase replaces all computers at Warren County and Skyline high schools and a virtual server. The funding comes out of a Virginia Public School Authority grant. In response to a question by Salins, Director of Technology Tim Grant said the Chromebooks are 10 years old, roughly two years over their life expectancy.

• Authorize the purchase of the Edgenuity online learning curriculum at a cost of $66,806 paid for with Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) funds. The total cost comes to $70,740, including tutoring. Salins expressed concerns about the program and said it received “horrible” reviews online. She added that she deferred to the administration’s “expertise” that it’s important for the schools to provide the virtual learning option.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Alan Fox acknowledged that the learning platform received “awful” reviews but also positive reviews. The platform monitors student achievement and progress, Fox said. He added that the platform makes it difficult for students who fall behind to catch up so administrators plan to assign teachers to help those students. Ballenger said the Virginia Department of Education has vetted the platform.

• Authorize the superintendent to provide written confirmation relating to a proposed amphitheater next to Samuels Public Library on Criser Road to allow the project to move forward. The School Board leases to the county a 3.7-acre portion of its property on Criser Road adjacent to Ressie Jeffries Elementary School per an agreement reached in January 2008. The county then leased the property to the Samuels Public Library Board of Trustees for a new library.

Per the lease agreements, in order to make improvements or renovations on the property, the Library Board must obtain approval from the county, and the county from the School Board. The law firm of Sands Anderson required confirmation in writing from the School Board and the county that neither party objects to Sands Anderson taking on the project since both are clients, which would constitute a technical conflict of interest. Legal counsel also plans to draft an additional document that grants a three-party agreement between the School Board, the county, and the Library Board to consent to the building of the amphitheater, its location on the leased property, and its design.

Board members also met in a closed session to discuss a personnel matter.

– Contact Alex Bridges at abridges@nvdaily.com