CCS board approves $1,000 COVID training bonuses for more employees

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Schools Board of Education unanimously approved using approximately $750,000 of its $12.5 million remaining COVID-relief funds to pay a $1,000 COVID-19 training bonus to staff who fall outside of the state’s employee bonuses program at its mid-year retreat Tuesday.

Under the state’s bonus program, public school teachers as of Jan. 1 whose salaries are supported by state funds can receive a one-time $1,000 bonus for having participated in one or more COVID-19 mitigation trainings between March 2020 and the start of the new year. The funds — received by the district through application to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction — only cover state-funded certified employees.

“To fully recognize the efforts of all employees (federally and locally funded) that have completed required trainings to address the mitigation of COVID-19,” the district’s agenda item said, “we are requesting authorization to use available ESSER III funds to pay them the $1,000 bonus.”

The approval of the additional $1,000 bonus comes amid renewed calls by educators to better compensate school staff, particularly among accentuated stress brought by staffing shortages and pandemic challenges.

The first week of December, the Chatham County Association of Educators (CCAE) posted a petition asking the county’s BOE to use federal relief dollars to recruit and retain staff during drastic staffing shortages across the state and county. That petition called for an additional $2,750 bonus to be given to every staff member, on top of any state-funded bonuses — which would total about $3.3 million of ESSER funds. It also asked for an increase in classified staff wages to more than $15 per hour, until the state wage levels passed in the new budget take full effect over the next two years.

The petition also asked for a raise in rate for substitute pay to $130 per day for certified staff with teaching licenses and $100 per day for noncertified staff — which the district passed at its Dec. 13 meeting. Effective Jan. 1, substitute teachers at CCS will get a 30% daily pay raise — the raise required to satisfy the $13 per hour minimum pay rate passed in the new state budget for noncertified school employees.

At the new rate, noncertified substitute daily pay rates will be $104, up from $80; certified substitute pay rates, also raised 30%, will go from $103 to $134. The 30% increase in substitute pay will result in an increase of approximately $275,000 to the current budget.

At that meeting, the district will also extend its signing bonus program for newly hired permanent 11- and 12-month employees through the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, and reinstate the signing bonus for other permanent employees with two-year commitments employed for the 2022-23 school year through December 2022 — $1,500 for classified employees and $3,500 for certified employees.

Edward Walgate, a petition organizer and Northwood High School teacher, told the board then that more of the district’s COVID funding should be reallocated to “rewarding existing staff for their efforts.”

“I’ll end by saying that we do not lay all of the challenges that face education at the school board’s door,” Walgate said. “Decades of underfunding at the state and federal level have put us in this difficult situation. But we believe that Chatham County has the ability to improve retention, improve hiring qualified personnel, and improve morale by compensating county staff.”

Other retreat business

• The board approved a contract with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for $988,647 of COVID-19 funding (pending attorney review) to hire Registered Nurse (RN) school nurses and related clinical school nurse support staff that opt-in to testing programs for the 2021-2022 school year.

• Superintendent Anthony Jackson, who started in the role last July, gave the board an entry report regarding his first months at CCS.

Moving forward, Jackson said the district will emphasize: better communication between district and its stakeholders, prioritizating student health and safety, improving school equity, articulating a clear school vision and aligning opportunities with access and resources as the school system grows.

He also shared that the district will enter into its strategic planning process starting in January for its new plan, “One Chatham,” to be completed prior to the 2022-23 school year.

“This is an ambitious timeline,” Jackson said on the meeting agenda item, “but we would like to align this process with the accreditation process that will take place that year as well.”

A more in-depth report of the district’s two-day retreat will be published next week. Reporter Taylor Heeden contributed to this report.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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