Controversy over bonus for Hamilton school employees - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Bonus plan rejected by Hamilton School Board

By David Carroll

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- For the third, and probably final time, the Hamilton County School Board rejected a bonus plan for school district employees Thursday night.  The vote was unchanged from two previous meetings.  Everett Fairchild, David Testerman, Rhonda Thurman, Mike Evatt and Joe Galloway voted against the bonus proposal, while George Ricks, Jeffrey Wilson, Chip Baker and Linda Mosley voted in favor.



CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- The Hamilton County School Board has again rejected a plan that would award bonuses to all school district employees. Thursday night,  Board members Linda Mosley, George Ricks and Jeffrey Wilson repeated their support for the plan, which had been rejected at the December 16 meeting.

At that time, Superintendent Dr. Jim Scales had requested a bonus plan of between $400 and $500 for each school district employee, but the Board voted to table, or postpone the plan by a 5-4 vote.  There was discussion of a work session to determine how to better spend the money, but such a session never took place.

At Thursday's meeting, the motion failed by a 5-3 vote.  Board member Chip Baker, who had joined Mosley, Ricks and Wilson in supporting the motion in December, was not present at the time of Thursday's vote.



CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- There will be no year-end holiday bonuses for Hamilton County school employees.  The Board voted 5-4 Thursday night to table, or postpone discussion on a plan that would have awarded one-time bonuses of $500 to certified (professional) employees and $400 to classified (mainly non-classroom) employees.  The money would have come primarily from a federal job program.

District 9 Board member Mike Evatt made the motion to table the issue, after District 4 member George Ricks and District 5 member Jeffrey Wilson made and seconded a motion to approve the bonuses.  

Evatt was joined by Board members Rhonda Thurman, David Testerman, Joe Galloway and Chairman Everett Fairchild, who broke a 4-4 tie.

In addition to Ricks and Wilson, Board members Chip Baker and Linda Mosley voted against tabling the motion.

Ricks offered the most passionate support of the bonuses, telling Eyewitness News, "This is federal money, and this is the holidays!  We owe it to our employees to give them something extra when we can.  We can't give them a raise, but we could give them something to be happy about at Christmas time.  I'm very disappointed with the vote.  We can bring it up again later, but it should have been done for the holidays."

Superintendent Jim Scales and Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz had supported the bonus plan.  He told Eyewitness News that "this was a way to thank our employees, who do their jobs beautifully."  Chairman Fairchild told Eyewitness News that he understood the superintendent's position, but "we need to sit down and talk about this, to make sure we spend this jobs money wisely.  I'd like to see us have a work session and bring all this out into the open."

Thurman argued against the timing of the bonus proposal, saying "This is just the wrong way and the wrong time to bring this up.  These people have jobs, and I know too many people who don't.  I know of too many schools that have real needs, that we say we can't afford.  We need more reading teachers in elementary schools, that should be obvious.  If we suddenly have all this cash to spend, let's take some time to see where there are needs, and fill those needs."

Testerman agreed with Thurman, and compared it to an earlier controversy this year when Board members were asked to vote on their own retirement payout on short notice.  He said he was unhappy when he was told that teachers union leaders had been told by Dr. Scales that the bonus plan was "a done deal."

Fairchild said any Board member could bring the issue up in the future, and that it could be a topic of a future work session.  Ricks said, "That may be true, but now was the right time to do this.  I will live with the Board's decision, but it shouldn't have been done this way."


By David Carroll

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Hamilton County Department of Education employees will learn Thursday if they will receive year-end bonuses of $400 to $500.  The School Board will vote on a recommendation from Supt. Jim Scales that would award bonuses "thanking all of our employees for the wonderful job they do educating the students of Hamilton County."

The bonus program would cost the school district approximately $2.4 million, about 84 percent of which would come from the federal Education Jobs Fund.

Here is the proposal from Dr. Scales that will be presented to the School Board at their Thursday meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Board meeting room on Bonny Oaks Drive:

"The economic downturn over the past few years has not allowed the school system to offer a salary increase other than a STEP increase to its employees.  In 2009 the state offered a one time bonus to certified employees.  The School Board approved a bonus of one percent (1%) to all full-time employees.

In Fiscal Year 2011 the School District received $6.237 million from the Education Jobs Fund.   These funds can be spent over a two year period ending June 30, 2012.  The primary purpose of this program is to assist school districts in keeping school based personnel employed.  One of the specific expenditures allowed under the program is a one time performance bonus for school based personnel as long as certain performance measures have been achieved.  The Administration believes that the following metrics show that during Fiscal Year 2010 the School District achieved the following:

1.   Increased graduation rate in fiscal year 2009 from 70.9% to 80.2% in fiscal year 2010.

2.   Proficient and advanced student math scores increased based on the new state standards for grades 3 through 5 based on index comparison with the state from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010.

3.   Decrease in disciplinary infractions.

As a result of these achievements, the Administration believes that all school based personnel should be rewarded for these achievements.

Realizing that the state is faced with some very difficult budgetary decisions, coupled with the impending loss of a majority of our stimulus funds on September 30, 2011, the Administration does not believe that there will be any funds available in the fiscal year 2012 budget to propose any salary adjustments.  Thus, the Administration is requesting School Board approval to pay all full-time employees who were employed in the system as of June 30, 2010 and still employed as of December 15, 2010 as a full-time employee a $500 one-time bonus for certified employees and $400 for classified employees.

Based on a preliminary analysis of our employees, it is projected that this bonus will cost approximately $2.4 million.  Our initial estimate is that approximately $2.05 million will be funded under the Education Jobs Fund program.  The remaining approximately $350,000 will be funded from the District's General Purpose Budget (85%), Federal Programs Budget (10%) or Child Nutrition Budget (5%) depending on the funding source of the individual.  The Administration believes that actual revenues from property taxes and sales taxes in fiscal year 2011 as compared to the budget will be sufficient to cover this proposed increase.

Since the majority of the funds are available from the Education Jobs Fund, which is a one-time funding source, and not having the resources to offer salary increases over the past three years; we believe that this bonus is a means of thanking all of our employees for the wonderful job that they do everyday in educating the students of Hamilton County.

The statute prohibits local education agencies from using the Education Jobs Fund for general administrative expenses related to the operations of the school system, including facility related expenses.

If anyone should have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thanking you in advance for your consideration of this request."

Dr. Jim Scales



CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- Hamilton County school employees are reportedly set to receive a year-end bonus in their paychecks, but not everyone is happy about it.

District 1 School Board member Rhonda Thurman says, "We can't afford to pad everyone's paychecks while we have so many other pressing needs," and adds, "It's the real world, folks.  People in regular jobs are hurting, and they're not getting bonuses, if they're even lucky enough to have a job."

School Board chairman Everett Fairchild, who represents District 3, is also concerned about the bonus plan, which he says "has been discussed, but not finalized."  He said Superintendent Jim Scales and Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz have been working on a bonus plan.  He says he has heard about two options, one of which would give each employee a one-percent bonus.  He says, "I will not support that.  That means the people who need extra money the most, would get the least money."  He said he might consider a lump-sum bonus for each employee, which could average "around 400 to 500 dollars, but again, it's just been discussed.  The Board would have to approve this at our December 15 meeting."

However, according to a November 30 memo from Sharon Vandergriff, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, she believes the bonus is a done deal.  She tells association representatives, her team negotiators and HCEA officers, "Dr. Scales contacted me this morning to inform me that they were definitely giving a bonus.  We do not know how much yet, but have been told it will come before the winter break."

This contradicts a statement from Dr. Scales to Eyewitness News, which he e-mailed the same morning, November 30.  In it, he says, "We have talked about a bonus but it is premature to go public at this time. We do not have the details worked out nor have we informed the Board officially. The Board would have to approve any raises or bonuses given to staff."

Contacted Thursday afternoon, Dr. Scales said, "Mrs. Vandergriff must have misinterpreted what I said.  I told her the Board would have to approve any bonus plan."  Mrs. Vandergriff remembers it differently.  "No, I wrote down exactly what he said.  I even repeated it twice to be sure.  I wouldn't have sent it out to teachers if there was any doubt.  I wouldn't want to ruin their holiday by telling them they're getting extra money, if there's any possibility that it would not happen.  I heard exactly what he said."

Dr. Scales says his staff will ask the Board to approve a bonus for every current HCDE employee who has been with the district since June 30.  He said, "In some discussions with Board members, most favor flat amounts (of 400-500 dollars) so the variance would not be so great (as opposed to a 1% bonus for all employees."

Board member Thurman says, "Apparently it's already been decided.  I guess he believes he has enough votes on the Board to do this, even though there's been no public discussion.  It's just business as usual."

She says she's been told the bonus money will amount to a total of $2.5 million, which she calls "money we don't have, and if we did, there are so many more pressing needs that would help children."  She says the money would come from "Volkswagen, a federal jobs bill, and our reserve funds, and no telling where else they're finding it.  They can always find it when they want to pad their own pockets."



Powered by Frankly