LINCOLNTON — The Lincoln County Schools (LCS) Board of Education unanimously approved retention bonuses for more than 1,500 district employees at a special-called meeting Nov. 23.
On Jan. 31, full-time employees will receive a $1,000 bonus, and part-time staff will get a prorated amount based on the number of hours they work per week. Substitute teachers who average 24 hours of work per week will receive $500, those who average 12 will get $250, and substitute bus drivers will get a $300 bonus. Any employee who resigns prior to the end of the fiscal year will be required to return the bonus on a prorated basis.
The district will use $1.85 million of the roughly $21 million from its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), a federal measure to lessen the impact of COVID-19 signed into law in March, to pay the bonuses, LCS Superintendent Aaron Allen said, adding that the summer school budgets for next two years were reduced by 25 percent and capital projects at G.E. Massey Elementary, Rock Springs Elementary and Pumpkin Center Primary were put on hold as part of the budgetary adjustments related to the reallocation.
“This does qualify with ESSER because it helps us maintain our employee base,” Allen said at the meeting. “Would we like to do more? Yes. But right now, with the budget that we’ve identified, this is what we can afford at this time.”
Allen, acknowledging that some school districts in the state have given teachers up to $5,000 in additional compensation, said the possibility for another bonus would be discussed in the coming months.
“I just want to make sure we retain our staff,” school board member Joan Avery added. “We have an excellent school system, and I don’t want anything to interfere with that. We have highly-qualified people that work here.”
Money from the state
The state budget, signed by Gov. Roy Cooper on Nov. 18, includes a 1.3 percent bump in base salary over the next two years for teachers effective Jan. 1, along with annual step increases for each additional year of service, and $100 million for teacher supplements to make districts without a large property tax base more competitive in the job market. LCS teachers will get an $829 supplement in their paychecks early next year.
“This budget moves North Carolina forward in important ways,” Cooper said in a press release about the approved state budget. “Funding for high speed internet, our universities and community colleges, clean air and drinking water and desperately needed pay increases for teachers and state employees are all critical for our state to emerge from this pandemic stronger than ever. I will continue to fight for progress where this budget falls short but believe that, on balance, it is an important step in the right direction.”