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School board approves two retention stipends for employees

The school board for Franklin City Public Schools voted unanimously to approve two different retention stipends during the June 3 school board meeting, aiming to retain the school system’s existing employees, especially its teachers.

Jeff Ryder

The larger retention stipend approved was for teachers, and they will receive it Dec. 31, 2021, and June 30, 2022. For teachers with 0-10 years of experience, these stipends will be $3,000 apiece, increasing their annual income by $6,000.

Assistant Superintendent Jeff Ryder explained that this idea of retention stipends for teachers “has been borne out of a recent rash of resignations and some very, very difficult-to-fill teacher positions.”

Franklin City Public Schools is taking note of how much nearby Suffolk City Public Schools is paying its teachers, and FCPS is making an effort to be competitive.

Ryder explained that SCPS is planning to increase the salary of its teachers to a degree in which those with 0-10 years of experience will be making between $5,000 to $6,000 more than those with the same experience levels in Franklin.

“(At) 17 years, they’re going to be making $10,000 more in Suffolk than they do at our place,” Ryder said.

In Ryder’s presentation, he noted that the retention stipends, which would cost $436,000 annually, could be funded for the next three years by the CARES Act funding Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR) III Fund (Stream 5).

In the listing of allowable uses for those funds, one use is stated as, “Other activities that are necessary to maintain operations and continuity of services and continuing to employ existing staff.”

“It was written that way when the first CARES Act came out because they didn’t want people going on unemployment,” Ryder said.

He then addressed the question of what happens in 2025 after the CARES Act funds are gone.

“We are confident that the state funding will probably come around by then,” he said. “I’m thinking that within three more weeks, whenever they release their calculator, that $436,000 — $215,000 might come from the state.”

On one of the slides in his presentation, Ryder stated, “We won’t know until late June … if our state calculator has a compensation supplement in it. We intentionally did not include the preliminary figure of $215,436 in our FY 2022 budget because we are not 100% certain it will be in the final version. If it is, we assume it will repeat every year and that would cover about half.

“The remaining $190,000 would be made up from a combination of staff position eliminations, roughly $170,000, and the rest the city would need to increase our funding, $20,000 three years from now.”

The board discussed the options at some length, including whether it should simply give teachers a raise as opposed to the retention stipends.

Ward 2 board member and chairperson Amy Phillips asked, “Which one, from the teacher perspective, would have the greater impact — adjusting the salary scale or a retention bonus?”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Natalie Halloran replied, “I honestly think the retention bonuses, because if you look at the salary scale, people will come in at different levels, whereas regardless of the level you come in at, you know you’re going to get that set bonus.”

She said the retention stipends could help greatly with retention and recruitment over the next three years, and if so, the school system can show the city this effectiveness. It could work as an incentive for the city to provide additional funding to FCPS to help keep teachers after 2024.

“But then we don’t get that money from the state,” At-large board member Carrie Johnson said.

“That’s the only caveat,” Phillips said.

When asked why the state money would not come in, Johnson said, “The state gives money for salaries, it’s like to help out, and usually it’s like a, ‘Hey, go ahead and raise their salaries, and then we’ll give you this little boost to help with that,’ and it’s usually only for one year, but if we’re doing it as a stipend and not a part of the salary, then our division wouldn’t qualify for that.”

“It’s usually for only a portion,” Phillips said of the state funding. “It usually doesn’t fully fund a pay increase.”

At one point during the discussion, Ward 6 board member Jerry McCreary said, “I lean towards doing the stipend, and then revisit it next year if we need to.”

Phillips shared a reason why the stipend would be the easier option.

“If we do go the route of the stipend, that doesn’t mean that we can’t come back next year and say, ‘OK, instead of a stipend, let’s adjust salary scales,’ and then we don’t have a stipend anymore, we have an adjusted salary scale,” she said. “If we adjust the salary scale, it’s going to be kind of hard to backpedal and say, ‘Mmm, let’s not have that salary scale, let’s transition back, but let’s do a bonus for the difference.’ That gets kind of difficult to do.”

Johnson said she would like to see FCPS have a more competitive salary scale, but she acknowledged the net benefit of the retention stipend for teachers.

“If you have more money in your pocket one way as opposed to another, we’re still getting them that money,” she said. “I just don’t want to put us in a bind in the future.”

After the board approved the retention stipends, Phillips noted it has to be approved each year.

“So it’s going to come back before us again next year anyway, and we may decide to do something different at that time,” she said.

The first retention stipend considered by the board June 3 totaled $1,200, and the board approved it for all returning employees who currently have a signed 2021-22 contract.

This stipend was presented by Ryder as a way to help the school system reach its targeted spending level by June 30.

He indicated that Franklin City Public Schools is aiming to find itself in a $703,158 deficit by June 30, and he explained how that works.

“If the city says, ‘Hey, you finished with a surplus,’ and we say, ‘Yeah,’ and they say, ‘Thank you,’ and they keep it, then we go back later in the year and ask for it in the next year,” he said, noting the city will say either yes or no.

He said that for fiscal year 2020-21, the city said yes, and then he explained the mechanics of how the school system accesses those funds.

“We had a surplus, but it’s over on their books, and the only way we can spend their money is to spend into a deficit, and then our money that we had from a surplus in a prior year pays for that deficit,” he said. “So it’s very counterintuitive to tell a public that we’re intentionally spending in a deficit, but that’s the way it works in Virginia.”

He explained that these stipends would be paid for with $122,089 in local funds and $92,350 in CARES Act funds.