GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Guilford County Schools Board of Education voted to approve $1,500 bonuses for all employees in the district at their meeting Tuesday evening. This bonus money is completely separate from the one North Carolina lawmakers approved for all state employees.
GCS Superintendent Sharon Contreras recommended a $1,500 bonus for all employees, excluding principals and assistant principals, who previously received a bonus from the School Emergency Relief Fund.
“I felt it very important that all of our employees receive recognition of their commitment to our students, especially in the midst of this pandemic,” Superintendent Contreras said.
Guilford County Board of Education member Pat Tillman said he hopes that these bonuses equal results in the classroom.
"I hope it sends a message that we hear you, we see you, we value what you’re doing for our children throughout the district," said Pat Tillman, member of the Guilford County Board of Education. "I think bonuses and more money is wonderful when we can get it, and we had to make some decisions on where to make some swaps to offset this in order to get the bonuses to where they were but (...) I really want to see growth and learning acceleration, catching these kids back up.
The Guilford County Association of Educators pushed the district for a $4000 bonus. Southern Guilford Middle School special education teacher Leah Hendershot said it was disappointing not to get the full amount.
"We're not being greedy in asking for this money," said Hendershot. "It's really what's owed to us and then some."
Hendershot said inflation has made the situation even more difficult and people are finding it difficult to provide for their families.
"People who love this work and they love kids, they love students, they care about our communities. They're really trying hard to stay in these jobs. And they can't," said Hendershot.
Morgan Watson is a front office support staff member at Northwest Middle School. She said she feels people in her position are getting left out of the discussion.
"All focus always seems to be on teachers and most people know that without custodians and those of us in the office, nothing functions," Watson said.
School leaders also approved an additional $500 for the district’s lowest-paid staff.
"I think that was a correct choice to give them more because they've gotten the least from the state," said Hendershot.
Part of the state bonuses would raise non-certified school employee pay to a minimum of $13 per hour for 2021-22 and to $15 per hour beginning July 1, 2022.
"Clearly that is not enough money for what we deal with all day," Watson said.
Board member Tillman said a factor in approving the bonuses was other school districts doing the same.
"It can be sort of like wildfire in some cases where even though the district may be really small like Randolph County or Rockingham, teachers see that and I think justifiably so they want to know where we are with issues like that," said Tillman.
Along with school bonuses, GCS approved pay increases in their budget resolution.
The GCS bonuses are separate from the North Carolina bonuses for state employees. State lawmakers said a surplus in the budget made it possible for them to give all state employees $1,000 bonuses, with teachers getting an extra $300 on top of that. Some teachers could be eligible to receive up to $2,800 in bonus money from the state alone. The state bonuses will be issued in the coming weeks.
Here's the math. With at least $1,300 in bonus money from the state and $1,500 from the school district, GCS teachers will be getting at least a combined $2,800.
Teachers could get even more from the state -- an extra $500 for state workers who make under $75,000 a year and an extra $1,000 if they participated in COVID-19 safety mitigation strategies. That means GCS teachers could get up to $4,300 in combined bonus money from the state and district.
Watson said she is left out of the extra $1000 for COVID training, even though she has done it several times.
"I am our COVID coordinator. It's all I do all day. As soon as a kid is sick in a classroom, the teachers send them to me. I sit with them. I've trained as we've gone through COVID, symptoms change and there are different variants," said Watson. "I send students home with official letters with what they need to do to return. I make sure they are able to keep up with all their work, that they get coded right for their attendance."