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Division staff to receive bonus

Suffolk school division employees will get an extra boost in an upcoming paycheck.

The School Board voted unanimously during its virtual meeting Nov. 12 to provide one-time bonuses of $500 for full-time staff, while permanent part-time and long-term substitutes will receive $250 in their Dec. 18 paychecks.

Employees receiving it must have been hired before Oct. 1, and employees whose names have appeared on the Virginia Employment Commission’s bills for the second and third quarters of 2020 would have to have those matters resolved before becoming eligible for the bonus, according to Chief Financial Officer Wendy Forsman.

The $1.1 million for the bonus would come from the more than $3.2 million in reversion funds, money City Council reappropriated to Suffolk Public Schools in September. The money came from extra state sales tax revenue that was projected to drop by about $3 million in the final quarter of the 2019-2020 fiscal year but did not happen, Forsman said.

Board member Tyron Riddick wanted to see part-time workers, in particular custodians, receive more bonus money.

“That doesn’t sit well with me considering that our custodians are our front-line staff,” Riddick said. “They are in the trenches doing things that most people wouldn’t prefer to do, risking their health … to sanitize and make learning environments possible, to make transportation environments possible, to make meal preparations environments possible.”

Forsman and Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said the division has to be careful in how it allocates specific amounts to different sets of part-time workers. Gordon noted the many sets of employees who have been on the front lines during the coronavirus pandemic, and said they are all deserving.

Riddick suggested it would have been fairer to offer an equal amount for all employees, whether full-time or part-time.

Because it did not know it would receive the reversion money until July, Forsman said the division held back on planned purchases of school buses, as well as resurfacing of high school tracks and parking lots, a middle school remodel and replacing computers.

Board member Sherri Story had previously asked about providing division employees with a $2,000 bonus. However, Gordon said with projected shortfalls in state funding available for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the bonus plan offered by the division is the best it can do for now.

Gordon said if the funding outlook becomes better than he expects, he would be willing to revisit the issue in the spring.

“Every school division across the state is really anticipating a revenue shortfall,” Gordon said. “Sales for the entire state are down, and so we want to make sure that we’re going to be conservative in our approach while still trying to make sure that we do reward our staff for all their hard work and dedication. And I want to reinforce all staff. We’re not really going to try and put one group above (the) other because we need everyone in order to make this school division work.”

Forsman said another $1.6 million in reversion funds would go toward buying 16 replacement buses — nine special education buses at $109,071 each, and six, 65-passenger buses at $104,179 each.

“We have a replacement schedule for school buses,” Forsman said, “and we have a very large bubble of buses that’ll come to fruition by 2025. We cannot afford to purchase 81 buses in a single year, so we’re trying to break that up over years so that we can meet the needs of our school buses.”

Forsman also updated the board about the division’s CARES Act money. Suffolk got to keep nearly $2.7 million, while, by law, it had to set aside more than $184,000 for the city’s two private schools — $39,315.11 for Suffolk Christian Academy and $144,845.15 for Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. The deadline to spend the CARES Act money is Sept. 30, 2022.

The division is spending $1.45 million on 3,500 new and replacement tablets, another $970,107  on instructional software to support virtual learning and $173,000 on connectivity devices such as Kajeets and monthly service costs, and $100,000 on disinfectant sprayers.

The division had also applied for a more than $1.4 million grant from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief set aside and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief money, but was awarded only about $441,000. The deadline to spend that money is Sept. 30, 2021, and can be spent on facilities, instruction, technology, food and nutritional services and special education.

Of the ESSER set aside and GEER award, the division received $61,681 to purchase disinfectant and personal protective equipment, and it received $69,800 for curriculum rewriting and another $30,200 for software for English language learners. It also received $52,605 for special education — $50,000 for a virtual therapy platform and another $2,605 for instructional tools and manipulatives. It also received $35,775 to buy more connectivity devices and another $190,800 for the connectivity costs for devices. The division will also have coronavirus relief funds that must be spent before Dec. 30. It can use it on COVID-19 testing supplies, PPE, technology, temporary staffing costs related to COVID-19 response and additional staffing for virtual learning.

The division is recommending that it be able to use more than $2.4 million coronavirus relief funds for the following:

  • Upgrade teacher Chromebooks: $861,300
  • Interactive whiteboards (150): $628,200
  • PPE and disinfectant supplies: $293,924
  • Virtual teachers for both semesters: $259,765
  • Daycare provided for staff (2 months’ cost): $110,758
  • Handheld disinfectant sprayers: $80,000
  • Hot water in student bathrooms at Elephant’s Fork, Nansemond Parkway and Kilby Shores elementary schools: $60,000
  • Software — Legends of Learning and Book Flix: $43,734
  • Zoom: $37,319
  • Special education instructional supplies: $24,120
  • Student STEM kits — science: $9,870
  • Social-emotional learning kits/training: $5,000
  • Air purifiers in select special education classrooms: $3,600

The board also unanimously approved an increase in substitute pay from $88 per day to $100 per day in an effort to attract qualified candidates to support its hybrid learning model when students do return to school, and to make the school division more competitive with surrounding localities.