Forsyth County Schools plans to use a percentage of its allocated federal coronavirus relief funds to give staff members an added $1,000 bonus on top of state retention bonuses next month.
When President Joe Biden passed the American Rescue Plan Act last month, the state of Georgia received close to $4.5 billion in coronavirus relief funding with $3.8 billion going toward the state’s school systems.
The funds are allocated to different school districts based on the percentage of students receiving Title I services linked to lower family income. Forsyth County Schools plans to receive $13 million through the latest relief funding.
FCS Chief Financial Officer Larry Hammel said the school district is required to set aside 20% of the funds, or $2.6 million, for education interventions, but they want to give part of the remaining funds back to staff members.
Georgia’s state Board of Education already passed a plan back in March allowing for $1,000 bonuses for teachers and many other education employees paid for through state coronavirus relief funds. The retention bonuses are meant as a “gesture of gratitude for their work and sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the Georgia Department of Education’s website.
FCS wants to add an additional $1,000 on top of that, following the same state guidelines, to give back even further to their staff members.
Superintendent Jeff Bearden noted that the $2,000 bonus could be especially beneficial as the district was unable to give staff members step increases, increases to salary based on experience, last year due to cuts in state funding.
“Now to end this fiscal year and give all of our employees the $2,000 between the two pots of money, I know will be very, very well received in our school system and our community,” Bearden said. “And our employees will be very appreciative.”
Aside from the extra bonuses, the district plans to use some of the remaining funds to add Energy Recovery Units to Sharon and Shiloh Point Elementary Schools. Hammel said many of the other elementary schools have already had the units installed. They help to control humidity and temperature within the building while working to prevent mold and save energy.
With the $2.6 million set aside for education interventions, Associate Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Lee Anne Rice said they plan to put together a summer program this year for K-12 students.
District leaders feel the program could be especially helpful for students who have fallen behind due to limits or stresses caused by the pandemic.
Principals will evaluate students who may need extra help at each of the schools based on data collected and drops in course grades. Students selected will be invited to the summer program and given the option to attend if they feel they need to.
While the district usually offers a summer program for high school students as a way to recover credits, it has never been offered for elementary students before, and families are usually asked to pay for the schooling to help cover summer costs.
Using these funds, however, the district will be able to cover costs for staff time and other resources. Rice explained the biggest cost will be for transportation as they hope to offer each student the chance to ride the bus to school from their regular bus stops.
“That’s been one of our largest barriers when we do any kind of summer school or summer opportunities is being able to get the students on campus,” Rice said.
The district has chosen schools as host sites for the program — Forsyth Central for high school students; Otwell Middle for middle school students; and they plan to choose five different elementary schools spread out geographically throughout the county.
Rice said the department plans to begin reaching out to parents about the program in the next two weeks. The summer school will run from June 2 to June 24 with a pre-planning day for teachers on June 1.
She also noted that the district does not have to spend all of the coronavirus relief funding until September 2023, meaning that if the summer school is successful for students, they may be able to continue with it the following summer.
Bearden said the program is also a great opportunity for staff members who want to continue teaching and earn more money over the summer.
“It’s kind of a win-win for our staff and our students,” Rice said.