Wake Ed

Lowest-paid Wake County school employees could get $500 bonus

Mechanic Matt Oginsky steam cleans excess oils and lubricants from the engine of a school bus in the Wake County Public School System transportation garage in southeast Raleigh on August 25, 2016. The Wake school system is considering using $1.7 million in state money for a one-time bonus for some of its lowest-paid employees, which include mechanics, bus drivers, teacher assistants, cafeteria workers, custodians and clerical staff.
Mechanic Matt Oginsky steam cleans excess oils and lubricants from the engine of a school bus in the Wake County Public School System transportation garage in southeast Raleigh on August 25, 2016. The Wake school system is considering using $1.7 million in state money for a one-time bonus for some of its lowest-paid employees, which include mechanics, bus drivers, teacher assistants, cafeteria workers, custodians and clerical staff. News & Observer file photo

Thousands of the Wake County school system’s lowest-paid employees could get a $500 merit bonus this school year using a mix of state and local dollars.

Wake County school administrators recommended Tuesday that the school board give a $500 bonus to employees who are making less than $15 an hour and who have received satisfactory ratings on their job evaluations. This group of employees include people such as teacher assistants, school cafeteria workers, bus drivers, mechanics, custodians and clerical staff.

“We’re targeting our lowest-paid employees,” David Neter, Wake’s chief business officer, told school board members on Tuesday.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the bonus plan on Dec. 6. The bonuses will be paid to employees in January. Full-time employees would get a $500 bonus, minus the amount taken out for taxes. Part-time employees would get a pro-rated amount.

The plan will cost up to $2.5 million, the majority from state funding, to cover the bonuses and federal taxes.

The impetus for the bonuses comes from this year’s state budget, which provides money for state-funded non-educators to receive a one-time merit-based bonus. Wake’s share of the bonus money is $1.736,050.

The state provided some guidelines for the bonuses, including that they can not be across the board. School districts are required to report by Feb. 4 how they’ll spend the bonus money.

Neter said Wake administrators decided the bonuses should go to employees making less than $15 per hour. There’s been talk nationally about how $15 an hour is needed for people to have a living wage. Some communities have set $15 as the minimum hourly wage.

Neter said district leaders also decided that it would be fair to give bonuses to locally-funded low-paid non-educators.

Neter said it’s not yet certain how many of the 4,300 state and locally funded employees who are making less than $15 an hour would receive bonuses. School board members said the large number of low-paid employees confirmed their suspicions that nearly half of the district’s support staff are making less than $15 an hour.

Employees such as bus drivers have complained about low pay, leading to issues such as driver shortages and a sick-out by some drivers in October 2015.

The school system has made efforts the past few years to address the pay concerns, adopting 3-percent pay raises for support staff both last year and this year.

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