By Karen Hall
Bonuses for all school employees, paid from the federal Jobs Bill, moved a step closer at December's school board meeting, but not without reservations expressed by several school board members.
When the Jobs Bill was announced just over a year ago, school board members were excited by the possibilities, talking about paying academic coaches as well as awarding bonuses to teachers.
For months, every time Marshall County Education Association leader Patty Hill gave her report to the board, she said, "Please think about using Jobs Bill money for bonuses for the teachers."
As recently as October, during a budget committee meeting, when asked about the Jobs Bill money, interim assistant director Dr. Larry Miller said, "A bonus is Mr. Dukes' No. 1 recommendation. He wants it for everyone in the system."
Miller went on to explain that Dukes was proposing a one-time bonus of $500 for all 385 certified teachers, and $300 for 675 non-certified full time employees, and possibly a lesser amount for part-time non-certified people.
"Everybody deserves the bonus," Miller concluded.
At that time, budget committee chairman Donnie Moses agreed, stating, "I'd rather see everybody get it, even if it has to be less."
Board member Sam Smith also agreed, but expressed some reservations, especially since no extra federal money, like Jobs Bill or stimulus funds, is foreseen for next year.
"I'm all for bonuses," Smith said. "It's long overdue, but are we going to give a bonus this year and lay teachers off next year? I'm a bit concerned."
Smith reiterated his doubts at the meeting Thursday night, while Barbara Kennedy went further.
"I don't know if we need to reward everybody equally, regardless of performance," she said. "Maybe the bonuses should be for highly effective teachers to mentor those who need assistance."
Harvey Jones Jr. pointed out that it's been several years since teachers had any increase in pay, and Randy Perryman agreed with him.
Kennedy pointed out, "Maybe they haven't had a raise, but they still have their jobs."
Kristen Gold also had doubts about spending the Jobs Bill money on bonuses.
"There are so many things we need," Gold said. "We'll have to use the fund balance just to maintain where we are."
"If we don't start doing something for these teachers, we're going to see them leaving," said Jones.
"The teachers deserve it," agreed Smith, but he continued, "I don't want to do this now and then be short next year."
"I can argue both sides," concluded Gold. "I believe it (bonuses) would be good for morale. I don't know what next year holds, but I'm pretty sure it's not more revenue."
Budget committee chairman Donnie Moses was also in favor of teacher bonuses.
"I don't think a bonus is irresponsible - it is deserved," Moses said, adding, "It does not come without risk." He recommended finalizing the transfer of Jobs Bill money, and then sitting down with the education and budget committees of the county commission. Board members unanimously approved his motion to prepare a resolution for the formal transfer of the federal money to the account for teachers' salaries, freeing up the corresponding amount of local money to be put in the fund balance.