CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers and staff continue to call for higher retention bonuses this year.
It comes at a time when the district is facing resignations and teachers shortages caused by COVID-19.
The CMS Board of Education unanimously passed an existing retention bonus in December. Full-time employees will get a total of $2,500 and part-time employees will get $1,250.
Ink4EdEquity, a public education group representing CMS employees, sent an open letter to CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston, CMS Chief Human Resources Officer Christine Pejot, and board of education members.
The letter, which was sent prior to Tuesday's board meeting, asked CMS to use more COVID-19 relief funds for retention bonuses.
"Right now is the time to do that," Justin Parmenter, a CMS middle school teacher, representative of Ink4EdEquity and board member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Education Association, said. "This crisis is not going to get better and I know that the number of people who have, who are resigning is growing by the day.”
CMS is using approximately $48 million to $49 million out of the $317.5 million of COVID-19 relief funds for current retention bonuses.
At a board of education meeting one parent says with the current state of teacher shortage due to pay and COVID-19 district leaders needs to take action.
“I’ve heard from the superintendent and chair tonight thanking those who’ve worked so hard words have hallow meaning when not backed up by the compensation that could come forth from the second-largest district in the state," Jordan Boyd, a CMS parent and PTA member, said.
At-large board member Jennifer De La Jara said in a statement in part, “Based on conversations I have had with CMS Leadership, there is a willingness to use more ESSER funds for further retention bonuses. I hope to hear more later this month about the request they will submit to DPI."
ESSER funds are Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The funds are money sent to states by the federal government to use related to COVID-19 relief. Any COVID-19 funds used in schools must be reviewed by the North Carolina Department of Public Institution.
“I agree that incentivizing our educators is of the utmost importance," De La Jara said. "Without them, education obviously doesn’t happen so teacher pay is a critical factor."
CMS Board Chair Elyse Dashew said she's in support of the group's request as well.
“I'll just say nothing is off the table," Dashew said.
She said she doesn't want to get ahead of CMS leadership, board members or the superintendent, but she thinks there is support for higher retention bonuses.
"It's like we keep saying unprecedented challenges, historic challenges, but it just keeps getting notched up another level and then another level and another level," Dashew said. "So, we've got to help our employees out."
At-large board member Lenora Shipp, who spent more than three decades in education, also expressed her support for higher retention bonuses for all staff.
"I truly have been in the trenches so I understand the hard work teachers, staff, support staff everybody," Shipp said. "And it takes us all to make it happen. I definitely want to see us increase that bonus for all staff."
De La Jara said it's important that teacher retention and recruitment needs to be multifaceted.
"We also need to be able to attract future educators to the classroom, so our State Legislature needs to provide a competitive pay scale so we aren’t losing teachers to South Carolina like we are now," she said in a statement.
Dashew said the district needs to use all its tools to keep teachers.
"If we're able to do another round of a retention bonus, that's still a one-time thing that's like a band-aid on something that needs a systemic solution, a long-term solution. That means better salaries for our staff. And for that, we've got to work with our funding partners at the state and the county to make that happen."
District 2 Representative and Vice Chair of the board, Thelma Byers-Bailey, is also in favor of the possibility of higher retention bonuses.
"I continue to be amazed at the dedication our teachers and staff display as we all endeavor to soldier on through this pandemic. They all deserve every bit of support we are able to provide," said Byers-Bailey in a emailed statement. "I look forward to hearing the recommendations from the superintendent and staff regarding the possibility of additional bonus for all our essential workers."
There are multiple steps that would need to be taken from the school board, CMS central staff, and the state before any funds can be disbursed.