Access to Virtual High School to continue

WILTON — A Wilton-Lyndeborough teacher will continue to teach a Virtual High School course, netting program benefits for the district, after the method of payment for teaching an online course was called into question.

The School Board agreed to make a formal contract to cement an informal agreement between Wilton-Lyndeborough social studies teacher Michael Dring and the former superintendent. The original agreement had never been approved by the board.

Dring has been teaching online criminology course through Virtual High School since 2007, he told the Wilton-Lyndeborough School Board at its meeting Tuesday. He had worked out a verbal agreement with former Superintendent Trevor Ebel to submit an accounting of his teaching hours for the semester, which he would then be compensated for.

Expecting this arrangement to continue under the new administration, Dring submitted his report to the Interim Superintendent Donald LaPlante, requesting payment equalling $3,247, based on a per diem rate.

Upon reviewing the situation, LaPlante noted that while Dring was entitled to a contracted $500 stipend to coordinate the school’s virtual high school program, there had never been a formal agreement concerning additional salary for teaching a course, nor had the School Board ever approved the expenditure.

LaPlante discovered Dring had been previously compensated after Ebel had authorized payroll to expend the funds through a handwritten note. While the Superintendent has the ability to authorize that kind of payment, LaPlante said it should have gone through the School Board, and felt he could not authorize the approval this year without the board’s say so.

Tom Kelly — the Monadnock Region director of UniServ, an affiliate of the National Education Association — who represented Dring during the meeting, pointed out that if proper procedure hadn’t been followed, it was at the administrative level. Dring had acted in good faith and deserved to be compensated for his work.

Board member Dion Lewis asked if Dring received payment from the Virtual High School program for teaching the course. Dring answered that he did not. Teachers, if not given regular compensation from their home schools, were usually granted an additional free period to run their online course, he said. He would like to continue teaching the course, he said, but could not do so without some form of compensation.

“I’d like to continue to do this, if I was under contract,” Dring told the board. “I would love to do it next year. I want to teach this course, and I want to give our students the opportunity to have access to alternative education. I’m just asking for fair compensation.”

Training another Wilton-Lyndeborough teacher to teach an online course would cost an additional $3,500, he pointed out.

The school garners several different benefits from employing a teacher who conducts a course through the Virtual High School, LaPlante explained. The annual dues for enrollment in the program are lower, as is the cost to enroll a student in an online course. The school saves $725 annually on dues, and a reduction of $200 per enrolled student in employing a Virtual High School teacher. In addition, instead of giving five students access to the program per semester, as they would without a teacher, Wilton-Lyndeborough has the opportunity to give an additional 10 students the chance to enroll in online classes.

Wilton-Lyndeborough Middle and High School Principal Brian Bagley pointed out that there were a number of students that had taken Virtual High School courses last year that would have been turned away without those additional seats.

School Board Chair Geoff Brock agreed that the additional access was a powerful incentive. “We’re a small school,” he said. “We don’t get the same opportunities that a school in Boston or Manchester has,” he pointed out.

LaPlante said the financial benefits outweigh the cost of paying Dring the $3,247. “It sounds as if this has been beneficial financially to the school,” he said.

The board approved the expenditure of the $3,247 to compensate Dring, and also agreed to draft an ancillary contract that would specify the conditions of payment for teaching online courses in the future. Board member Jim Button opposed the motion.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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