Cumberland County Schools approves bonuses for employees

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Cumberland County School Board unanimously approved bonuses for all staff on Wednesday morning.

An estimated 7,200 employees will receive $1,000 in December and an additional $1,000 in May. This includes teachers, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers among all other staff.

"To encourage our employees for sticking with and staying with us and working with us through this pandemic and these difficulties that all are facing," Associate Superintendent Clyde Locklear said during the meeting.

Both bonuses will cost the district $18.6 million. The district plans to use money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. This fund is federal money awarded to districts during the pandemic.

Wednesday's emergency school board meeting comes a week after school bus drivers walked out to demand better pay and working conditions. More than 100 buses did not run on Nov. 10.

"It's actually our voices are being heard because if we hadn't done the strike they wouldn't even think about another bonus," said Daisy Sutton, a bus driver for Cumberland County Schools.

Sutton said she's worked for the district for three years, driving exceptional children, and hasn't gotten a raise. She said the bonuses are good news, but not the final solution.

"It's a start for us right now. Our voices have been heard," Sutton said. "It's saddening that we had to strike in order to make our voices be heard."

District leaders agree that more needs to be done to increase salaries.

The board also unanimously voted to update its 2017 compensation study during Wednesday's meeting.

"It will help us to identify maybe where we're not keeping up with other competing business and employment opportunities here, where we need to make some increases in our salary schedules and get our people paid at appropriate levels so that they are will continue working for us here in the school district," Locklear said.

The district pointed to legislators failing to approve a comprehensive budget as one reason for stagnant salaries for its employees. The lack of a budget paired with the pandemic and changing labor market has caused CCS to fall behind its competition and report higher than average resignation rates.

Locklear and other leaders hope increasing salary will help recruit and retain more qualified employees.

Heather Kaiser is a teacher and president of the Cumberland County Association of Educators. She said employees and students feel the side effects.

"Real teachers in real classrooms are covering much larger groups of students. And the ultimate problem with that is that the student doesn't get what they deserve from that," Kaiser said. "The students are losing out and the teachers are getting stressed and burned out over it."

Kaiser echoed that the bonuses are a good first step.

"One-time money is always a brief, okay, pat on the back. That feels nice for a moment. But we still got to do the day-to-day," she said.

Locklear said the newly proposed state budget also helped district leaders choose to approve the bonuses on Wednesday.

"Not getting a state budget, not knowing what our funding would be for the year it was just difficult to make some final and long-lasting decisions," he explained.

Additionally, bonuses and 2.5% percent salary increases are proposed for school teachers in the state budget that Gov. Roy Cooper is expected to review this week. The current state budget proposal would also increase the hourly wage of non-certified school employees to $13 and increase it to $15 next school year.

The bonuses that were approved on Wednesday for CCS employees come more than a month after the district approved another one-time $1,000 bonus. That bonus was also funded by the district's stimulus funds.

"The pandemic has put some of the pressures on that we're facing now. But those resources are helping us meet these pay requirements and many other options opportunities within the district," Locklear explained.
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