The Warren County School Board buckled under pressure from the Board of Supervisors and cut one-time bonuses due to employees who resigned and will not be with the division next year.
The School Board on Wednesday voted 4-1 to approve cutting bonuses from 75 employees who resigned. The approved motion states that the School Board would ask the supervisors to allow the division to use the money saved by cutting the bonuses for E. Wilson Morrison renovations. Employees with a retirement date after May 31 remain eligible.
School Board Chairwoman Dr. Kristen J. Pence and members Antoinette D. Funk, Andrea M. Lo and Melanie C. Salins voted in favor of the motion to change the eligibility requirement. Vice Chairman Ralph A. Rinaldi opposed the motion after commenting that all employees deserve bonuses.
The action comes after the School Board voted 5-0 at its May 18 meeting to ask for the supervisors’ permission to transfer money from one budget category to another that would allow the division to give all employee bonuses of either $1,500 or $750. No supervisor voiced support for the request, with some members saying they would not want resigning employees to receive bonuses.
Some members expressed concern that supervisors may not allow the board to transfer any money and no employee would receive a bonus. Salins said the board needs to prioritize who should receive bonuses and protect the reward for the staff planning to stay with the division next year. The board would face blowback if no one receives a bonus and it could be a “morale kill” for staff who earned the reward, Salins said.
“On the flip side, if you’ve seen the blowback from taxpayers who do not have kids in school or on fixed incomes and I have read their complaints with complaints about taxes going up and we’re going to renovate E. Wilson Morrison (Elementary School) in the future and somewhere you’ve gotta just meet in the middle and, if meeting in the middle means that the 75 (employees) who quit don’t get this bonus, then I’m willing to sacrifice that in order to protect our current employees,” Salins said.
Rinaldi stood his ground on giving bonuses to all employees.
“I think that this is a position that we didn’t want to be in and you have to look at, you know, the supervisors have their responsibility because they answer to the taxpayers ...” Rinaldi said. “But at the same time, it’s a tough one because everyone in the school system stepped up.”
Rinaldi echoed Salins’ comments and noted that the board faces an “all-or-nothing deal.”
“Do we say no bonuses for anybody, bonuses for everybody or just the people that are staying, and, to me, there’s one answer and that was what we voted on on May 18,” Rinaldi said. “But, at the same time, I’m a practical person and I would hate to see the whole thing get shot down because ... the Board of Supervisors on, quote-unquote — and I’ll probably get in a lot of trouble over this — on the money grab and that’s what it is.”
Employees resign more often for higher salaries elsewhere even as the school system tries to make its pay scales more competitive, Funk noted in her comments before the vote. Funk said she wanted to stick to the original plan and give a bonus to all employees who worked this year but she worried that all 800-plus employees could lose out on that reward.
The board heard from two people during the public comment period on the matter, both of whom urged members to provide bonuses for employees. Angela Robinson, a public school teacher for almost 24 years, criticized the supervisors for their lack of support for employee bonuses. Robinson said all school employees “put their love and dedication in overload last year.”
“What have we done to show our admiration? Constantly throw new demands; spew political rhetoric; follow COVID restrictions; handle behavioral issues, and so many more,” Robinson said, reading from a written statement. “What does our school staff do? Their jobs and they didn’t quit on our kids. They showed up, did their jobs and the jobs of many others due to the shortages.
“Why would money that is already in school funds not be used to show our appreciation,” Robinson said. “Who is the Board of Supervisors to determine who is good enough to receive this bonus?”
Robinson reiterated the need to support school employees and urged supervisors to allow the system to give bonuses to those who worked this past year.
Jenny Dunivan tendered her resignation as family engagement coordinator after 16 years working for the school system, a decision she told the board did not come easy. Dunivan said she feels that she and the staff who work with preschoolers are “kind of on the back burner,” and are not usually part of the budget discussions. As for the proposed bonuses, Dunivan told the board that some instructional assistants already spent what they expected to receive as a bonus but now they won’t see that money because they resigned. Dunivan urged the board to give the bonuses as proposed.
Full-time employees would receive a net bonus after taxes and division costs of $1,500; part-time workers, $750. Employees hired after Jan. 1, 2022, would receive half of the amounts. The division would need to spend an estimated $1,908,452 to cover the bonuses under the revised request. The division plans to pay for the bonuses with savings generated from the inability to fill a number of positions during the school year, staff turnover and the lag between when an employee leaves and their replacement is hired.
The School Board sought to use the savings to pay the bonuses to all employees who stayed through the year, taking on added responsibilities and the increased workload for those people who left the division. Even employees who resigned would have received a bonus because they still did the work, Pence has said.
Supervisors on Tuesday did not show support for the School Board’s proposal to spend savings to give bonuses instead of using the money toward the costs of other projects. Supervisor Delores R. Oates said she did not feel those employees who have resigned and do not plan to work for the school system next year should receive bonuses.