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Schools Spending Federal Relief Money on Employee Bonuses

'... the District recognizes the hard work and dedication of our employees and the need to compensate them fairly in the current economic environment...'

(The Center Square) School districts across the country are spending federal COVID-19 relief money on bonuses to employees, saying their employees earned it for their work during the pandemic.

The bonuses vary from district to district, ranging from $250 to more than $20,000 per employee.

Flint Public Schools in Mich. gave each of its teachers a $22,500 bonus in 2021.

Tucson School District in Ariz. is going to pay $7,500 retention bonuses to all of its full-time employees spread over three payments starting Dec. 2, 2022, through Dec. 1, 2023.

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Gaston County Schools in N.C. approved $5,000 in retention bonuses for all of its permanent employees during the 2021 and 2022 school years.

District officials cited additional responsibilities employees “have endured” since the pandemic and said the bonuses helped improve the stability of the district’s workforce.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is paying teachers a 3% retention bonus in 2022-23 and 2023-24. That would be about $2,200 for a fifth-year teacher with a base pay of $72,696. The district also gave nurses a $20,000 salary increase.

“… the District recognizes the hard work and dedication of our employees and the need to compensate them fairly in the current economic environment,” the district stated in a Sept. news release.

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The National Council on Teacher Quality surveyed 148 school districts and reported that about 40% offered some kind of retention bonus to teachers in 2021-22.

But it’s not just teachers getting bonuses.

Boston Public Schools is paying part-time cafeteria attendants and bus monitors a $250 bonus for every 10 days worked through the 2022-23 school year.

Some politicians wanted to give out even more federal money.

In Mich., Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed adding a state retention bonus on top of what school districts were already paying.

Whitmer’s plan was to spend $2.3 billion on K-12 public education workforce recruitment and retention bonuses in 2022.

It would have given bonuses to an estimated 200,000 employees working in public schools and teachers could get up to $11,000 in bonuses over four years, above and beyond what their districts are already paying in bonuses.

The public policy research nonprofit Citizen’s Research Council concluded Michigan’s K-12 workforce had increased by 11,000 employees in 2021-22 and stated, “it is hard to see the justification for the broad scope of the [Gov.’s] statewide school employee retention bonus spending proposal.”

“A more targeted intervention, one that would be less costly to taxpayers, would focus funding on those schools most adversely affected by high employee turnover and that face the greatest difficulties staffing specific positions.”

Whitmer’s bonus plan was not included in the budget lawmakers passed in July, according to the Mich. Department of Education.

Christian Barnard, the senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation, said retention bonuses could be a good use of federal COVID-19 emergency dollars because they don’t come with any long-term commitments, such as a new hire.

“However, it’s important that districts target retention bonuses to staffing categories with the greatest retention challenges – for example, science and math teachers and special education teachers,” Barnard said in an email.

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