Marion schools plan non-teacher $1,000 bonuses

Diane Gullett, the superintendent of Marion County Public Schools, right, listens during a school board meeting in March. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Marion County Public Schools want to make sure all its full-time employees, not just teachers, get a $1,000 bonus for their efforts in the face of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement came after public school teachers and principals began receiving $1,000 checks from the state after the legislature approved using some federal stimulus money for bonuses earlier this year.

In Marion County, about 2,500 qualified for the state bonus, but another 3,500 district employees, including custodians, bus drivers and food service workers, among others, were left out.

The school district plans to use about $5.2 million from an Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) grant, provided through the CARES Act, to pay the bonuses.

Theresa Boston-Ellis, CFO for the school district presented the plan during a Marion County School Board work session on Thursday.

She said the U.S. Department of Education allows using ESSER funds for bonuses, with some restrictions.

“We can use it to pay for bonuses as long as the LEA (Local Education Agency) can justify how the bonuses are addressing the recovery, response and prevention of COVID-19,” she said, reading from a DOE email.

Teachers and principals who work at alternative and charter schools in Marion County received the initial state-provided bonuses, but the proposed district-level bonuses to non-teachers will only be for public school staff.

Charter schools receive their own ESSER funding said Boston-Ellis, so they can provide their non-teaching employees with bonuses if they choose.

Non-teaching employees at the county’s alternative schools may receive bonuses as well, though not through the district’s ESSER money.

But to guarantee $1,000 goes to each employee, the checks issued by the district will have to be for nearly $1,500 to cover taxes.

Full-time employees who worked for the district through May 26 will be eligible for the district-level bonus.

Voluntary Prekindergarten Education Program or VPK teachers were not covered by either the state’s bonus program or the district plan. They may be able to receive bonuses through another source, Boston-Ellis said.

Part-time and temporary school employees are also not included in the district-funded bonuses.

The board discussed finding a way to offer those part-time and temporary workers a bonus, even if it was less than $1,000.

Boston-Ellis said the grant application for the $5.2 million in bonuses was sent on Thursday, but she was not sure when the district would receive the money. The bonuses will not go out until the grant is fudned.

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