Personal service contracts could help N.C. Virtual Public School teachers return to work in the fall

The Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) may have found a way forward for 220 N.C. Virtual Public School (NCVPS) teachers who were told last week they couldn’t work this fall because it would be in violation of state law governing temporary workers.

As temporary workers, the teachers are required by law to take a 31-day break after reaching 11-consecutive months of service. The break can be taken anytime during the 11 months to accommodate the needs of the agency.

But under the OSHR proposal, the teachers for the online, state run program would be able to return to work after signing personal service contracts with the state. By signing the contracts, the teachers would no longer be classified as temporary workers.

“The State Office of Human Resources has considered a range of possible solutions to ensure continuation of NCVPS instruction for the fall semester and believe that your department can hire affected teachers on personal service contracts,” Lars Nance, general counsel for OSHR, wrote in an email to Philip R. Thomas, acting general counsel for the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

Nance said OSHR staffers discussed the proposal with State Purchasing and Contract to ensure it’s a feasible solution. He said OSHR also drafted a personal service contract template DPI could use for NCVPS teachers.

“While securing contracts for the 220 teachers in time for the start of the school year will be a challenge, we commit to recruiting assistance from other agencies to help achieve this goal,” Nance wrote. “This proposal is the best approach for ensuring NCVPS instruction continues.”

State Superintendent Mark Johnson warned last week that if a short-term fix was not found, NCVPS would be forced to cancel or reduce enrollment in half of its 150 courses this year. He estimated 7,300 students would be unable to take advantage of the NCVPS courses this year if teachers are forced to take the 31-day service break.

Nance said OSHR is worried about the viability of the program if a long-term solution is not found.

“While this proposal will allow these teachers to continue teaching during the fall semester, we recommend that NCVPS and DPI establish a more permanent employment plan to ensure compliance with state law,” Nance said.

In the letter, Nance also backed earlier reports that staffers with OSHR and Joe Gilroy, director of Temporary Solutions, a division of the Office of State Human Resources that manages payroll for temporary state agency workersand  makes temporary jobs available to workers, contacted DPI to warn officials about the potential layoffs and to discuss ways to avoid them.

“But we understand no change was made, and that by Tuesday, July 30, 220 teachers had been notified that they had to take a month-long break in the fall even though they were committed to teaching classes,” Nance said.

Nance could not be reached late Monday for further comment.

The N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) has asked Gov. Roy Cooper to help resolve the situation.

And Johnson sent an email to state lawmakers last week requesting help crafting a short-term solution so teachers could teach in the fall.

(This story has been updated to make clear that Temporary Solutions is a division of the Office of State Human Resources that administers payroll for temporary state agency workers and makes temporary jobs available to workers. It does not, as the story originally reported, “manage” the workers. The agencies that employ the temporary workers manage them, establishing qualifications, setting work hours, assigning tasks, determining the duration of their service, etc. We regret the error.)

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