Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Over the last school year, teachers across North Carolina have received bonuses throughout the year based on state promised bonuses centered around performance. The General Assembly budgeted different pockets of money to be awarded to teachers and school employees whom the local district identified as being top performing. The one-time merit bonuses have been given out to different teachers, teacher assistants and school system employees throughout the year, with the most recent being third grade reading teachers.
Macon County officials were charged with the task of developing a local plan on how to award merit bonuses to the top 25 percent of performing third grade reading teachers. The General Assembly’s budget included a $10 million pilot program designed to distribute bonuses to third-grade reading teachers whose students see the most growth in test scores. Teachers whose students score the highest on the local and state level could receive up to a $6,800 bonus.
According to Macon County Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin, five of Macon County’s third grade teachers received the 25 percent bonus, which totaled $2,832 each for the five teachers. While five teachers were recognized as being in the top 25 percent of third grade teachers in Macon County, 16 of Macon County’s 19 third grade teachers ranked in the top 25 percent in the entire state.
“All of Macon County third grade teachers met expected student academic growth for the school year,” said Dr. Baldwin.
For ranking in the top 25 percent of the state, Macon County teachers received an additional bonus of $3,532.
Reading teachers weren’t the only ones recognized for their efforts at Monday night’s Macon County Board of Education meeting. Advance Placement and Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers were also slated to receive a bonus from the state. AP teachers received $50 for every student scoring above a level III on the AP exam and CTE teachers received $400 for every student earning a credential or certification as the result of the coursework. In Macon County, eight AP teachers and 1 CTE teacher was recognized for meeting the state bonuses.
The state not only set performance goals for teachers to meet in order to receive the bonuses, but set employment requirements as well, some of which meant high performing teachers missed out on their earned bonuses.
Dr. Baldwin explained that not only did the teacher’s students have to score well the previous year, but the teacher was required to still be teaching third grade reading, or the same AP class, or the same CTE coursework, which isn’t always the case for Macon County’s smaller schools.
“We are currently sorting this out through the EVAAS roster verification process,” said Dr. Baldwin. “We know that at least one third grade teacher qualified for the bonus, but will not receive the state award due to moving from 3rd grade to first. Two additional third grade teachers may also fall into this category.”
At Franklin High School, an AP teacher may not have enough students interested in the class from semester to semester to offer it, which would make them not eligible for the bonus, even if their students from the previous semester scored well.
“The School Board felt that teachers who earned the bonus based upon their efforts with students last year should not be penalized for changing teaching assignments,” said Dr. Baldwin. “Had the teachers known that this bonus was a possibility they would have remained in the third grade. Teachers affected in this manner will be paid out of local funds. One AP teacher was also similarly affected. The AP course that the teacher taught last year was not offered at the high school during the current school year. Some AP courses are not offered on a yearly basis due to a small number of students requiring the course each year. Therefore, these courses are offered biennially.”
On Monday night, the board of education unanimously voted to fund the bonuses not covered by the state out of local funds, although the exact amount for those bonuses isn’t yet known. Dr. Baldwin said it is still being sorted out, but right now it looks like between one and four teachers were affected, and the cost to award them the bonus out of local funds is between $3,532 and $14,000.
Monday night marks the second time the school board used local funds to pay employee bonuses not allocated by the state. Earlier this school year, the state allocated $59,000 bonuses for classified employees in the school system. The bonuses came with the caveat that employees had to be considered classified employees, custodians, cafeteria workers, teacher assistants, bus drivers, and other non-teaching positions, and paid out of state funds.
Macon County has 233 classified employees, with only 142 paid out of state dollars. The 91 employees paid that are considered classified, but not paid from the state, are paid out of funds available. The positions may very well be mirror image positions, and just by chance are paid out of a different pocket of funds than their colleagues.
To be fair to all classified employees in the district, the Macon County Board of Education voted to use $33,000 out of local funds to provide the remaining 91 employees the same bonus as the 142 employees that are state paid.