The Columbia County Board of Education voted Tuesday night to approve a policy that would provide additional job security to employees called to active military duty.
Although there are state and federal laws that protect the rights of employees ordered to military duty, school officials said the new policy takes these rights a step further.
"Obviously, what's going on in Iraq and around the world has given rise to this policy," said school Superintendent Tommy Price. "We don't feel a person called to duty should receive a loss in pay, so we are willing to pay the difference between their net military pay and their net school system pay, provided the military pay is less, for up to 24 consecutive months."
Laws now require the system to pay Army reservists for 18 days if they are called to duty and National Guard members for 30 days.
"With this new policy, they are not going to lose any money for 24 months, and that's the bottom line," Mr. Price said. "However, we seem to be the lowest-paying organization, so I don't think we are going to lose any money - they make more in the military than they do working for us."
The policy also expands the time period the school system would hold the jobs open.
"While the law only requires 30 days for reinstatement, Columbia County is expanding that to 90 days," said Connie Davis, the school system personnel director.
Those on military duty more than 90 days and as long as five years would be offered the same type of position they held before being ordered to duty.
"They will be entitled to all seniority rights as when they left, as well as those instated during their leave," Mr. Price said.
School board Chairman Wayne Bridges asked Mr. Price to send a letter of commendation to the four school employees who have been called to active service so far.
Though the number of National Guard and Army Reserve members called into active duty is small, the call to serve has left some key positions vacant in Columbia County.
Lakeside High School Assistant Principal Suzy Roper was one of those recently called to duty, in addition to Greenbrier Middle School seventh-grade teacher Randy Smith. The school system also has lost a technology support person and a paraprofessional who has been out of the classroom for more than a year on active duty, Ms. Davis said.
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.