Two weeks after agreeing to a $7,500 hiring bonus for new employees, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board gave an initial nod to opening up the checkbook for the rest of its employees with plans to cut an extra $3,000 check right before Christmas.
It would be the third one-time payout in as many years and the largest one-time check for employees in decades. It is an effort to compete with neighboring schools and school districts that have raised employee pay amid widespread shortages.
The holiday largesse is expected to cost about $20 million and would come from federal COVID 19 relief funding.
The School Board preliminarily approved the one-time stipend with a unanimous vote Thursday. Board member Connie Bernard and Dadrius Lanus were absent. Final approval is expected Aug. 18 and the check is set to end up in employee paychecks on Dec. 13.
“I’m so happy our employees know this is coming and it’s an excellent way to start the school year,” said board member Jill Dyason.
Students return Monday from summer break.
Storm Matthews, a teacher at Sherwood Middle, applauded the move. She said that she got a lot of positive texts and messages once the proposal was posted online on Tuesday.
“People are very happy,” said a smiling Matthews.
Supt. Sito Narcisse has signaled all summer that an employee stipend was coming, but would not specify how much. On July 21, as the board was considering the $7,500 hiring bonus, Narcisse refrained again from specifying an amount. He said the new stipend would actually be two stipends, one for the fall, one for the spring.
Since then, the administration decided to put all the money instead into one big check.
Matthews urged the board to keep open the option to pay a second stipend in the spring.
Not everyone will get the extra $3,000. Excluded will be new teachers who’ve already received the $7,500 bonus, employees on unpaid leave and part-time staff. And School Board members and most Central Office administrators will also be left out.
The move was partly spurred by a high number of vacancies in school positions.
In response to a question from Board President David Tatman, Narcisse said the number of teacher vacancies stands at 78 — down from 233 on July 21, the same night the board approved the hiring bonus.
Narcisse said some of the vacancies were eliminated by redeploying existing staff. He said some of the district’s learning coaches are being used as classroom teachers for a time.
“I’m thanking the coaches who are helping us temporarily to get classrooms up and running,” Narcisse said.
A couple of board members, however, said they are still hearing of widespread vacancies.
“I know that a lot of people are doing double duty,” said board member Evelyn Ware-Jackson.
“I know of one kindergarten with 88 students,” said board member Dawn Collins.
School staff said they would look again at their staff numbers and give Collins an updated report.