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CMS retention bonuses will cost $48 million, funds will come from American Rescue Plan

Full-time employees will receive $2,500, while part-time workers at CMS will get a $1,250 bonus. Some say the bonuses aren't enough to keep teachers.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders voted unanimously Wednesday to give retention bonuses to teachers as the district faces widespread resignations during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Retention bonuses approved 

The Board of Education held a virtual emergency meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 8, to discuss the consideration of retention bonuses for CMS employees. The board unanimously passed retention bonuses for all employees, including teachers, janitors and cafeteria workers. 

Full-time employees will get $2,500 and part-time employees will get $1,250. The retention bonuses will be paid out in two payments, one on Dec. 22 of this year, and one in September 2022. Substitute and guest teachers are exempt from the bonuses. 

“In at least a small way -- to be able to say thank you,” superintendent Earnest Winston said at Wednesday’s meeting. “To be able to say we hear you, and that we understand the challenges that you face, and we support you.”

But where's the money coming from?  

CMS said the bonuses will cost roughly $48 million and all the funds will come from the American Rescue Plan Act.  

Chair Elyse Dashew noted the school board was notified they could use the money for bonuses late on Tuesday. So, they held a special emergency meeting Wednesday to approve the bonuses.  

Between Aug. 1 and Oct. 19, 524 teachers left the district, with nearly 100 more planning to leave by the end of 2021. According to data provided to WCNC Charlotte on Dec. 7, 871 CMS teachers have resigned this school year. 

“The priorities are out of whack,” said Justin Parmenter, a CMS seventh-grade English language arts teacher. “That we're not in valuing the people who have such a gigantic impact on the lives of our children.” 

He and other teachers were rubbed the wrong way, knowing teachers with Wake County Schools will receive a $3,750 bonus from federal COVID-19 relief funds.  

Parmenter said the number of teachers leaving the district shows there’s a crisis that bonuses likely won’t fix.  

“I think the actions of our school district need to reflect that we understand there's a crisis, and we need to take some significant action to stem that exodus,” Parmenter said. “I'm not sure this proposal is going to do that.” 

In a statement to WCNC Charlotte, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators said Charlotte educators are "increasingly frustrated" with the vacancies and the "delay in response" from the board of education.

“I respect the BOE's vote tonight, to get raises for all CMS staff," CMAE Vice President Rae LeGrone said in a statement. "However, this is just the beginning. More can be done in retention bonuses, and I will be fighting for this. Join me. 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."

'Simply drained' 

"We're covering classes, we're sacrificing our planning, which leads to planning at home," one teacher said. "Many are mentally, physically and emotionally, simply drained."

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Olympic High School has seen the most teachers leave, with 25 employees leaving this year. The second-most resignations have been at Renaissance West STEAM Academy and Julius L Chambers High School, with 18 apiece.

What’s left of Aprill Yakubu’s 21-year teaching career sits in boxes in her garage now. 

The former Chinese language and history teacher left her job at Olympic High School in the middle of the year. 

"The lack of resources and respect for teachers I was covering classes every day for my planning, every day my name was on the list," Yakubu said. 

The class sizes for Olympic High School, like other school seeing high resignations, is above state and district average classroom size.

The state average for an English II class is 19 students per class Olympic High School has an average of 26. 

The district has proposed incentive programs to retain and attract teachers, they even paid for Yakubu’s master’s degree. 

Since the 2017 school year, the superintendent's proposed budget has called for more money to be spent on salaries. 

Yakubu says pay is not the only reason teachers are leaving. 

“They moved our classrooms every year then they give the new teachers a classroom," she said. "Then they put the old teachers floating. So the culture of the school is not geared towards even listening to teachers' issues and what they need."

Teacher resignations by the numbers 

Compared to the CMS school district the number of experienced teachers in schools most impacted by versus beginning teachers is disproportionate. 

WCNC looked at the number of experienced teachers in Olympic, Garinger and Harding University High Schools. The district's average of experienced teachers is 83% while these schools have an average of 61% to 74%. 

Olympic's amount of experienced teachers dropped from 80% the previous school year. 

The database below has the number of resignations this school year. Parents can search their child's school using the search bar in the top left corner.

In October, CMS announced a new "guest teacher" program to deal with the growing number of vacancies. The program, implemented at 42 schools, would bring on full-time employees to specific schools. Those employees, who are only required to be 21 years old and have a high school diploma, would earn $150 per day. 

Click here to see how your child's school is performing compared to other districts across North Carolina

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