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Macon County Schools offers staff retention bonuses

Macon County Schools offers staff retention bonuses

Last week the Macon County School Board approved the use of ESSER funds to give recurring $1,500 bonuses to all full-time employees and $750 to all part-time employees for the coming three years. The first payment will be given out on the December payroll. 

“I hope that serves as a gesture of our appreciation to every single one of our staff,” said School Board Chairman Jim Breedlove. “Every single one is essential to the operation of this system. I hope that’s what this conveys to them, our appreciation for them.”

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund provided federal money to State Learning Agencies in order to provide Local Education Agencies with emergency relief funds to address the impact that COVID-19 has had and continues to have on elementary and secondary schools across the nation. 

In May, Macon County Schools and Open Way Learning conducted a survey to determine what teachers, parents and students wanted to prioritize in the school system. The top five priorities were hands-on, experiential, outdoor learning; more art, music and extracurriculars; more and enhanced science and STEM; less testing; and more fun and engagement. Many of these priorities are addressed in the allocation of ESSER funds in Macon County.

“As we were looking down the barrel of COVID and trying to prepare our teachers and pivot so quickly, the PD [professional development] that we were able to put together just for remote learning was very impactful, it was very significant and it was very cost effective. So we have resources within the county so far, just with our capacity that we can really do high quality PD,” said Associate Superintendent Josh Lynch. 

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Macon County Schools allocated $500,000 for staff development, which will improve STEM education and address mental health needs. 

“The mental health needs were areas that were top priorities throughout each of those subgroups, and we have been able to fill six of those throughout the district utilizing the ESSER funds. That could not have come at a more poignant time not only for our students, but also for our teachers as well. I feel like we are being really good stewards of the funding and will continue to do so,” said Lynch. 

Those six mental health professional positions are part of the $1.7 million in ESSER funds used for additional staffing needs. In addition to the mental health positions, MCS has also hired an art teacher, a music teacher, two STEM teachers, one teacher’s assistant, one English language learner teacher, one English language learner assistant, one EC teacher, one EC teacher assistant, three nurses and provided half the salary for the principal of a virtual academy. 

Other than the $4.5 million being used for staff retention, the largest chunk of ESSER funds, $3.75 million, will go toward the six-classroom addition at East Franklin Elementary School. The amount is a projection for costs, based on the six-classroom addition at South Macon Elementary which, according to Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin, cost almost $3 million. 

At the Nov. 22 meeting, the board approved a motion directing Baldwin to begin the Request for Quote process for the expansion at East Franklin Elementary School. 

The school system will use $2,130,355 to address learning loss, required by the state as part of receiving ESSER funds. Another $750,000 will be used to fix the HVAC system at Iotla Valley; $1.5 million will be used for technology needs within the schools. 

“One of the major impacts of COVID-19, one of the things that we’re most concerned about is early childhood literacy,” said Baldwin. “The new State Superintendent Catherine Truitt has emphasized that very thing, and the state is now putting a lot of money towards early childhood literacy, particularly with regard to what’s called ‘The Science of Reading,’ so that’s sort of shifting some of our need away from that literacy component and now the state is going to be using a lot of their ESSER money to address that need so we can shift some of our money to other areas.” 

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