It’s all good news on the COVID-front in Johnson County, but school districts continue to plan for apocalyptic levels of COVID illness for the next school year, and at least one district is hiring a contact tracer.
Here’s the good news: The county 14-day rolling average of new cases sits at 46 per day. Deaths from the illness are dropping, on average there’s less than one per day in Johnson County. About 43% of Johnson County residents are fully vaccinated. More than half are partially vaccinated, and neither number includes natural immunity from previous COVID infection. More than 46,000 Johnson Countians, or nearly 8%, tested positive for COVID so far. The percent positivity rate continues to drop from a high of 15% in November to 2.5% today.
Yet, Blue Valley still requires masks on the playground, 8th-grade graduations are virtual, and the district is hiring a contact tracer for the next school year, a recent district job posting revealed.
Officials changed job title from ‘contact tracer’ to ‘health liaison’
In the initial posting, the job title read “contact tracer.” District officials later changed the job title in the posting to “health liaison.”
Changing the position title is a sure sign that parents and teachers are disturbed, so they changed the position title to cover up what they are doing,” said Dave Trabert, CEO of Kansas Policy Institute. (KPI owns the Sentinel.)
According to Kaci Brutto, officials changed the job title to better reflect the position and its responsibilities.
The posting doesn’t provide much detail about what the new hire will do. However, school districts are not responsible for contact tracing. By law, they cannot order students into quarantine. Only the county health officer can make those orders.
“Districts are not required to do contact tracing, and citizens are not required to cooperate, thanks to a state law that outlaws mandatory contact tracing,” Trabert said.
The job posting notes the district contact tracer will work 8 hours per day. The assignment lasts 12 months. Pay is dependent upon education; $14.19 per hour for a high school graduate or $19.34 per hour for a four-year college graduate. That’s a little more than $40,000 per year on the high end. Blue Valley declined to say what they pay beginning teachers, but a 2019 salary schedule on their website seems to show it was about $42,000.
“It’s sadly not surprising that Blue Valley board members approve spending $40,000 plus full benefits on a position that doesn’t help improve student achievement,” Trabert said. “They spend millions each year on top-heavy administration, while 21% of the district’s high school students are below grade level and less than half are on track for college and career.”
District justifies the hire using federal COVID-relief funds
Brutto says federal COVID relief money will be used to pay the contact tracer.
The federal government is sending $830 million in pandemic money to Kansas schools over the next 12 months. That is in addition to hundreds of millions already received.
“Justifying their actions by saying they pay the contact tracer with federal money is a typical government response,” Trabert said. “The federal money could be put to a much better use by helping students recover from the educational and emotional consequences caused by the district’s actions.”
State lawmakers recently also approved millions more in school funding for the next school year. Meanwhile, 18,000 fewer kids enrolled in public schools in Kansas last year, according to state Sen. Molly Baumgardner.
“Our focus in the legislature is we want schools to do what they’re designed to do, and that’s educate our kids,” she said.
Officials at the Kansas State Board of Education have said they prefer schools spend that money to limit learning gaps.
“There is a lot of money out there that can be spent to help kids catch up,” state school board member Jim Porter said during a March meeting.