Alamance-Burlington school board members have voted unanimously to award a $500 monthly bonus, which will be made retroactive to August, to 36 school nurses who’ve taken on extra duties amid a recent uptake in Covid-19 cases that have been attributed to the Delta variant.
ABSS finance officer Jeremy Teetor said the 36 nurses will receive a $500 monthly bonus for each month between August and December of this year. The bonuses will cost ABSS $93,000, which he said includes required “fringe benefits,” and will be funded by federal stimulus funding from the Covid-19 relief packages passed by Congress.
Teetor told school board members during their latest work session that, while the “typical school nurse makes much less than a private nurse,” the demands on their time have increased in tandem with positive cases of Covid-19. In addition to their regular duties during the school day, Teetor told school board members that school nurses are “following up with families about whether they’ve been in close contact or been quarantined” after testing positive for or being exposed to Covid-19.
The finance officer assured school board members that only those nurses who are currently employed with ABSS will receive the $500 monthly bonus through the end of this calendar year.
Asked by school board member Patsy Simpson why the bonuses will end in December, Teetor said, “We don’t know right now whether the current circumstances with Covid-19″ will continue beyond the end of the year. “We’re just trying to manage it in these chunks,” he said.
“We have heard our school nurses are quite busy, maybe even overwhelmed,” said school board chairman Allison Gant. “We are lucky being able to have a school nurse at each school.”
School board members subsequently voted 7-0 to use a portion of the school system’s federal stimulus funding to cover the $93,000 costs for the bonuses.
6-1 vote on $1,000 recruitment and retention bonuses for school bus drivers
There was less agreement, however, on a proposal to pay existing ABSS school bus 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.
ABSS has set aside $20,000 in county funding for “bus driver recruitment incentives,” the school system’s finance officer told school board members during their latest meeting.
Hoping to reverse an uptick in absences from work during the 2019-20 school year, ABSS had offered school bus drivers a $50 bonus for each month in which they had perfect work attendance, Teetor recalled during the school board’s latest work session. “That was not effective for us,” he acknowledged.
ABSS later offered a recruitment and retention bonus of $500 to existing school bus drivers and new hires. “The year we did that, we recruited five,” Teetor said, but ABSS still needs between 30 and 35 bus drivers to be fully-staffed.
Teetor also asked school board members to be thinking about possible long-term strategies for filling vacant bus driver positions as the next budget season, for the 2022-23 fiscal year, approaches.
Bus driver positions are traditionally some of the hardest to fill, said Teetor, because most aren’t offered full-time hours or benefits. Currently, ABSS is required to offer health insurance to any employees who consistently work an average of 30 or more hours per week. “We could lower the benefits threshold to [20 hours per week] to share in the cost of health insurance – that would help,” he said.
A “small number” of bus drivers work in dual positions – such as helping out in school cafeterias between their morning and afternoon bus routes – and some drivers are driving two routes per day to get eight hours per day, or the average of at least 30 hours per week, in order to be eligible for state benefits.
“If that is sustained, we do have to offer them benefits,” Teetor said. “It’s usually in October or November that we take a look at that to make adjustments for our part-time employees, so we will make a benefit offering [when warranted].”
School board members subsequently voted 6-1 to approve the proposal to pay each existing bus driver a $1,000 recruitment bonus for any referral that leads to a new bus driver being hired. Newly-hired bus drivers will be required to drive a school bus for ABSS for at least 60 days before they would receive the $1,000 bonus, Teetor said.
School board member Ryan Bowden voted against the recruitment and retention bonuses for school bus drivers, saying he felt that the money would be spent without affecting the long-term goal of making those positions more lucrative for future applicants.
In other business, school board members voted 2-5 to accept a staff recommendation to extend a contract with the school system’s custodial company, The Budd Group in Winston-Salem, to continue providing 36 sanitation specialists to wipe down high-contact areas at ABSS schools until the end of the 2021-22 school year.
School board vice chairman Tony Rose and board member Wayne Beam voted to accept the staff’s recommendation, at an estimated cost of $1.3 million for the remaining nine months of the school year. School board chairman Allison Gant and board members Ryan Bowden, Sandy Ellington-Graves, Patsy Simpson, and Donna Westbrooks voted against, reminding the school system’s administrators that they had previously expressed concerns about the quality of service, in addition to urging ABSS to issue a Request for Proposals from other custodial providers.
The school system’s contract for the specialist positions is scheduled to expire September 30.