The Wilkes Board of Education on Monday night unanimously approved a bonus salary plan focused on retaining Wilkes County School employees.

Each employee working at least 30 hours per week (considered fulltime) will receive a $1,500 bonus, paid in two installments of $750 apiece. Each employee working less than 30 hours a week will receive a $750 bonus, paid in two $375 installments.

Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd said bonus payments to employees who work day to day will be prorated.

People employed by the Wilkes schools when the first semester of the 2021-22 school year ends Jan. 13 will be eligible for the first installment. Those employed when the second semester ends May 22 will be eligible for the second installment. “To qualify, employees must remain employed with Wilkes County Schools through the final student day as indicated above,” the plan says.

The plan said actual payment dates will be Feb. 28 and June 23 and won’t be subject to the Teachers & State Employees Retirement Program (TSERS), indicating that money won’t be taken out for retirement.

The bonus payments will be funded with the money from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which is tied to COVID-19 relief. Combined cost of the bonuses wasn’t stated.

According to a “data points” section of the plan, employee turnover in the Wilkes schools increased by 104% from before the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020 to now.

The number of certified employee vacancies on the first day of the 2021-22 school year was 140% higher than on the first day of the 2018-19 school year. For day 40, the number of certified vacancies increased by 80%.

According to the data points section, nine school systems in the region already have announced that they will pay fulltime employees bonuses this year ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. The average of $1,267.

Conclusions based on 44 responses during discussions of Wilkes school administrators in a focus group sessions were:

“• There is a perceived need for staff to feel appreciated and valued for performance during the pandemic;

“•There is a perception that workload has increased;

“•While there is a perception of emotional and financial hardship, it appears that it is not the motivating factor for justifying need of incentive/retention bonus.”

The plan included this quote: “We continue to struggle to fill all positions. If we lose employees, it compounds the problem. It is a better use of funds to keep employees than hire new ones and have to train them, lose efficiency/productivity.”

It was stated during the board meeting that the retention bonuses are in addition state and local salary supplements. State supplements for Wilkes school teachers and other certified employees under a plan in the new state budget.

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