County schools use federal COVID education funds for bonuses

Randolph County Schools employees will receive $5,000

RALEIGH — Some North Carolina school boards have announced they will use federal COVID-19 relief funds to give bonuses to educators.

The Randolph County Public School System will pay every employee a $5,000 bonus, according to a resolution adopted by the school board on Oct. 25. The resolution described the bonuses as “retention” and “premium pay.”

Alamance County schools are giving full and part-time employees a $3,000 bonus while Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools employees will get a $1,400 bonus.

According to the American Rescue Plan’s  ESSER “FAQ,”  a district can use federal Elementary and Secondary Education Relief funds to provide “premium pay” or other additional compensation for teachers, principals, and other school personnel, including school nutrition staff and custodians.

Federal ESSER funds are appropriated by the General Assembly to the districts, but then the funds are typically handled by county managers.

Randolph County Schools has received nearly $50 million in ESSER funding which was included in the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide premium pay to employees and substitutes to address COVID-related disruptions and staff shortages.

Jamey Falkenbury, the director of government and community affairs for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, confirmed to North State Journal that these federal funds can be used for specifically for “recruitment and retention” bonuses.

“It is permissible, by the Department of Education, for locals to use their ESSER funds on recruitment and retention bonuses for teachers and/or school support staff,” Falkenbury said.

The bonuses have to be given to all employees and can’t just target a specific grade-level or type of teacher.

The ESSER funds can last up upwards of seven or eight years if the money is encumbered per the district’s ESSER plan.

The idea of stretching out the long-term spending of ESSER funds is highlighted by a four-year monitoring scheme posted under the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s ESSER informational webpage.

The state’s largest district, Wake County, is also considering using federal relief dollars to augment teacher pay.

Wake County has recently been dealing with bus driver sick-outs, which have forced parents to provide transportation. The bus drivers say they want more pay and they are stressed out over routes they drive being lengthened due to too few drivers.

Falkenbury mentioned Wake County’s plan as a good one to look at since the district seems to have plotted out the use of its funds as far out at four to five years.

The conservative John Locke Foundation reported in July that nearly ninety percent of the roughly $6 billion in COVID relief funds remained still unspent by North Carolina school districts.

In North Carolina, the Charlotte-Mecklenberg and Wake County systems has have received $459 million and $310 million, respectively, of the over $4.6 billion in funds received through the two most recent ESSER funding rounds. Asheboro City Schools received over $14 million and Uwharrie Charter received $1.4 million.


By Bob Sutton

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