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CMS and Union school boards OK employee bonuses amid staff shortages

 A new compromise bill will require all K-5 schools to hold classes five days a week with no need for physical social distancing.
Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
A new compromise bill will require all K-5 schools to hold classes five days a week with no need for physical social distancing.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved retention bonuses for all employees Wednesday, a day after the Union County school board did the same.

Both votes came after state officials authorized the use of federal COVID-19 relief money for bonuses to attract and keep employees during a time of staff shortages. CMS board Chair Elyse Dashew called an emergency meeting for Wednesday, rather than waiting until next week's regular meeting.

"We just got word late yesterday that we had the authority to make this happen," she said. "And we wanted to vote on this and put it into action ASAP so that you can get your bonuses before Christmas."

The CMS board voted 7-0 to spend $48 million of federal money on the bonuses (read the plan here). Full-time employees will get $2,500 and part-timers will get $1,250, each paid in two installments. The first payment will go out December 22 and the second half in September, for employees who are still working by the end of May.

Superintendent Earnest Winston said all employees have faced tough conditions during the pandemic.

"Some of them are experiencing both physical and mental exhaustion, but through it all they remained committed to our students," he told the board. "And so tonight ... we want to demonstrate a gesture of good will."

Vice Chair Thelma Byers-Bailey notes that the district is recognizing the work that all staff do to support students.

"This is not just teachers and principals," she said. "It covers janitors, it covers cafeteria workers, bus drivers. It covers all of CMS workers."

The bonuses will be in addition to those approved as part of the state budget, which will be paid in January. Winston said in a news release he won't collect the CMS retention bonus.

Union County's plan

The Union County board voted Tuesday to spend just over $12 million to pay $2,000 for full-time staff and $1,000 for part-timers. Substitutes, bus drivers and cafeteria staff are eligible for $250 to $500.

Those payments will be issued in February for people who are still employed in mid-January. A memo from Chief Finance Officer Shanna McLamb says the timing is designed to ensure people return for second semester.

Wake's bonuses are bigger

CMS board member Jennifer De La Jara voiced concern that Wake's retention bonuses are larger. The News & Observer reported that Wake's board voted in November to spend $80 million in COVID-1 9 relief money for bonuses that will total $5,000 by November 2022. They'll be paid in three installments.

The Wake board also approved a package of local raises Tuesday.

Wednesday night the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators issued a statement saying the CMS bonuses should have been $5,000 for full-time staff and $2,500 for part-time employees.

"Stop telling staff we are appreciated and start paying us enough to retain our folks. This is not about appreciation, it's about retention in a competitive job market,” CMAE Vice President Rae LeGrone said in the statement.

Copyright 2021 WFAE

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.