Alamance-Burlington school board members voted unanimously, 7-0, Tuesday afternoon to award 102 substitute teachers a $500 bonus that will be paid tomorrow, December 16.
The estimated total cost for the bonuses is $55,000 and will be paid from the school system’s undesignated fund balance (i.e., “rainy-day savings), ABSS deputy superintendent Lowell Rogers told school board members during a special-called meeting Tuesday afternoon.
School board vice chairman Ryan Bowden said he had calculated that the total cost would come to $51,000, if 102 subs who qualify are each paid a $500 bonus. “What’s the other $4,000 for?” Bowden asked Tuesday afternoon.
Rogers said that ABSS has to pay matching Social Security contributions, which accounts for the extra $4,000, bringing the total cost to $55,000.
While ABSS typically employs several hundred substitute teachers during any given school year, only 102 subs qualify for the bonus, based on the criteria the school system’s administrators developed.
The school system’s administrators noted in their presentation to the board that substitutes have been vital to serving students this school year, particularly in light of ongoing teacher vacancies.
Only those substitute teachers who had “fulfilled at least 30 full-day teaching requests” between September 1 and November 30 of this year are eligible to receive the one-time “retention” bonus of $500, Rogers told the board Tuesday afternoon.
ABSS currently has “a little over $2.4 million” in undesignated fund balance, Rogers said in response to a question from school board member Patsy Simpson. The deputy superintendent also emphasized that the bonus for eligible subs is one-time.
“Is anybody else left out [from receiving bonuses]?” asked Simpson.
Rogers indicated that some “school employees” hadn’t received a bonus but didn’t delve into specifics.
However, ABSS has repeatedly tapped its nearly $80 million share in federal Covid-19 stimulus funding, as well as some county funds, to award bonuses to employees since April 2020.
Cafeteria workers and bus drivers – several hundred who continued to work following the statewide school closure that Gov. Roy Cooper had ordered on March 14, 2020 – received an additional $250 in monthly pay from April through June 2020, which ABSS officials termed as “frontline bonuses” at the time.
In June 2020, school board members voted 7-0 to use $500,000 in county funding that had accumulated in fund balance to award one-time bonuses to teachers and hourly employees.
For teachers, that bonus was structured as the equivalent of a ¼ of 1 percent increase in the teacher supplement, which had been eliminated from the 2020-21 county budget request for ABSS. The 104 “classified” or hourly employees (whose departments included maintenance; transportation/bus garage; warehouse; skilled trades; central services support; translation; information technology; and clerical/central office) were awarded bonuses that were equivalent to 5 percent of their state-funded hourly wages.
School board members also voted last year to award several bonuses. In August 2021, the board voted 7-0 to award $5,000 retention bonuses to 32 adapted curriculum teachers within the Exceptional Children’s program; also in August 2021, they voted 7-0 to award a $1,200 bonus to ABSS teachers who had taught during an extended summer school session last year. (Additionally, up to 500 teachers were eligible to receive a second, $1,200 “commitment bonus” for teaching up to 72 hours during the summer of 2021, according to then-ABSS finance officer Jeremy Teetor.)
School board members also voted unanimously in September 2021 to award a $500 monthly bonus, which was made retroactive to August 2021, to school nurses who had taken on extra duties during the Covid-19 pandemic; that bonus also was funded by the Covid-19 federal stimulus money that ABSS received.
Board members, however, split, voting 4-3, over the objections of three now-former school board members, in October 2021 to use $10.5 million in federal Covid stimulus funding to pay all part-time and full-time employees a $3,000 bonus. They voted at the same meeting, 6-1, to pay ABSS school drivers a $1,000 referral bonus – to encourage people they know to apply to work as a bus driver for ABSS – and to offer a $1,000 recruitment bonus to newly-hired bus drivers who stay with the school system for at least 60 days. (Bowden voted against, saying he felt the money could be better spent if it were used to make bus driver positions more attractive to future applicants.)
“There seemed to be an appetite on the board to see if we could do something [for substitutes]…I would encourage you to do this,” ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler said Tuesday. “This is a one-time bonus, but we cannot keep doing this and be fiscally responsible.”
“I think it’s well-deserved, in my opinion,” Bowden said during the special-called meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Voting unanimously Tuesday to approve the use of $55,000 from fund balance to award a one-time bonus of $500 to 102 eligible substitute teachers were: school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves; Bowden; Simpson; and school board members Dan Ingle, Chuck Marsh, Charles Parker, and Donna Westbrooks.