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School board approves stipends, incentive plan

The Southampton County School Board voted June 14 to give pandemic stipends to all employees who have worked for the school division during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

Gwendolyn P. Shannon

The school board also voted to institute the Employee Educational Incentive Plan.

“For several months, probably since December or so, the budget committee along with the superintendent, together they’ve been working on an employee incentive and retention plan,” Board Chair Dr. Deborah Goodwyn said.

Southampton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gwendolyn P. Shannon then presented the plan for the pandemic stipends.

“I do want to share with the school board that the finance committee for Southampton County Public Schools has worked extremely hard, and we worked a number of months, as Dr. Goodwyn stated, to try to come up with some way of acknowledging our staff and the work that they’ve done during the pandemic,” she said.

“The teachers spoke tonight about how hard they have worked during the pandemic, and there’s no denying that,” she continued, referencing multiple teachers who spoke out earlier during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We agree with them wholeheartedly that they worked tirelessly and that sometimes we didn’t know what COVID-19 had to offer, but we still had our employees that were coming to work every day. And not just the teachers, but we had cafeteria workers here, bus drivers here, custodians here, administrators here, secretaries — you name it, they were on board, and they showed up every day.

“So we are extremely proud of our staff, we do value our staff, and because of that, what we’ve decided to do was to give a pandemic stipend to our employees for working the varied and unusual conditions.”

She said the stipends will be in the amounts of $2,000, $4,000 or a prorated pandemic stipend based on guidelines.

“Those guidelines are in order for you to receive a $4,000 stipend, you have to have worked full years, and that would have been 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, and that’s because that’s when the pandemic was in existence,” Shannon said.

She noted it does not matter if the school division employee is full time or part time.

“If you worked 2019-2020 (and) 2020-2021, you had a signed contract or a written employment agreement, then based on that particular guideline, you would receive the $4,000 stipend,” she said.

The second guideline applies to school division employees who worked the full year for 2020-21 only.

“Once again, it doesn’t matter if you’re full time or part time, you will receive $2,000 as a stipend,” she said.

Then Shannon addressed substitute teachers and temporary workers who were hired due to COVID-19, coming into the schools to take temperatures, clean and run day care centers.

“For those workers, we want them to know that we acknowledge what they’ve done for our school division and our children as well, and so we didn’t leave them out,” she said. “For those workers, they will be paid a stipend of $11 per day for any day that they worked during the pandemic.”

She said the disclaimer to this is that everyone receiving the stipend must have been employed by Southampton County Public School division on June 1 of this year.

“Of course, these stipends are subject to taxes and any applicable law or what have you, but we do appreciate our staff, and I’m just excited that our school board budget and finance committee saw fit for us to be able to use some of the CARES Act funding and some of our other funds to award our teachers, so thank you all so very much,” she said.

Then Debra Hicks, of the central office, presented the Employee Educational Incentive Plan.

Her presentation noted the plan has four types of assistance: tuition/textbooks, professional certification assessment, sign-on bonus and referral bonus.

For tuition assistance, Southampton County Public Schools will reimburse up to half of four classes up to $4,000 per employee per year based on available funds.

For professional certification, those seeking it with assistance have up to two attempts. The administration certification, a test administrators must take, will be reimbursable up to $500, teacher certification will be reimbursable up to $250 and specialized certifications will be reimbursable up to $1,000. The certification or license must relate to the employee’s current job function or career unless preapproved by the superintendent.

For the sign-on bonus, Hicks’ presentation referenced 10 critical shortage teaching endorsement areas in Virginia for 2020-21, highlighting kinds of teachers that are quite difficult to employ across the state.

These areas include special education; elementary education, pre-K-6; middle education, grades 6-8; mathematics, including Algebra 1, grades 8-12; career and technical education; science (secondary); foreign language, pre-K-12; English (secondary); library media, pre-K-12; and history and social science (secondary).

An individual certified in any one of these areas would be offered a $3,000 sign-on bonus, Hicks noted. An individual that does not have full certification but is eligible for certification will be offered a $1,500 sign-on bonus.

For the referral bonus, the amount of $500 will be issued upon hire, and another $500 will be issued when the newly hired employee remains employed by Southampton County Public Schools for a period of one-and-a-half years.

To be eligible for the aforementioned types of assistance, the plan stipulates an individual must be either a full-time employee, part-time employee or have been in their position at least one year with the school division.

Eligible paraprofessionals must major in education. The division may make direct payment to the university on their behalf if an established relationship is in place.

There are four guidelines for reimbursement and for requesting reimbursement. The individual must make a formal request using a provided form; receive a grade of C or better or a passing grade if the class is pass/fail; submit copies of their transcript and proof of payment; and these things must be submitted no later than six months from completion of the course.

“We’ve been working on this for several years,” Board Vice Chair James Pope III said of the Employee Educational Incentive Plan. “Dr. Shannon really promoted it and wanted it, and we tried to make sure we were able to fund it this year to help our staff.”