Bus drivers, other DPS employees to get bonuses

May. 08, 2014 @ 09:13 PM

Durham school bus drivers will get a bonus, but it won’t be the $500 teachers and other certified instructional-based personnel are expected to receive.

On Thursday, the Durham Public Schools Board of Education gave tentative approval to a plan to give $250, one-time bonuses to bus drivers and all other non-instructional personnel except for the superintendent and executive leadership team. Those top administrators aren’t getting any bonus.

The plan comes almost a week after bus drivers lobbied the board for $500 bonuses, the same that teachers and other staffers are set to receive, during a public hearing on the district’s proposed $408 million budget for the 2014-15 school year.

Bus drivers told the board that they are equally deserving of the bonuses because they also play a critical role in educating children.

“It takes a village to raise a child, and we want you to understand that, as bus drivers, we’re part of that village,” said Sheila Daniels, a school bus driver and member of the Teamsters Union, at the public hearing. “We work side-by-side with the teachers.”

The bonuses are part of a plan to spend $5.13 million, mostly from lapsed salaries and the district’s fund balance, to pay for “one-time” proposals.

The bonuses will cost about $2.2 million.

“From the original proposal, added to mirror the 25 percent tenure issue, we’ve now expanded this almost $750,000 of additional payment to our employees, who, based on our guiding principles, is our No. 1 priority: Our investment in employees and classrooms,” said Aaron Beaulieu, the school district’s chief finance officer.

The state wants to end “career status” or tenure by 2018 and offered teachers $500 bonuses to give up that status early, which the board agreed to match because many teachers said they would refuse the state bonuses.

School districts also were told to identify 25 percent of teachers to receive contracts, but the Guilford County and Durham County school districts challenged the law in court and won a temporary reprieve. For now, they’re exempt from having to follow the law.

Another large chunk of the “one-time” money -- $800,000 -- will be spent on contractual agreements at individual schools such as Citizen School at Lowe’s Grove and Neal middle schools and Playworks at 16 different sites.

Also, $725,000 is earmarked for facility maintenance, $530,000 to support Read to Achieve summer camps and $250,000 for the arts, secondary band and strings equipment and elementary school musical instruments, among other items.

The school board is expected to adopt its budget Monday. The budget will then be sent to the county for commissioners’ consideration.

Concern growing

There is growing concern among school officials over the district’s share of the quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2011 to benefit public education.

School officials said the tax has generated $629,000 more than it did the previous year and there has been some discussion about whether the increase will be passed down to the school district because DPS isn’t supposed to request any additional money from the county this year.

Roughly $7.8 million -- $7.25 million for K-12 and $434,555 for Pre-K – is due the school district, including the $629,000 that is now in question. The district receives 67.12 percent of the revenue generated by the sales tax. The remainder goes to Durham Technical Community College.

The school board has said it would request a flat county appropriation, meaning no money above what it received for this school year, in an effort to rebuild trust with county commissioners in the wake of last year’s discovery of an extra $15 million in DPS’ unassigned fund balance.

The board was unaware that the district was flush with a nearly $20 million fund balance last spring when it went to commissioners to ask for more money.      

The discovery of the extra money in the fund balance embarrassed the board and cost former superintendent Eric Becoats his job.

Still, board Vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown said the school district should receive the extra money generated by the sales tax.

“Maybe we need to define what ‘flat’ means,” Forte-Brown said. “Flat does not mean at a negative for Durham Public Schools in terms of taking care of students who come there. Flat doesn’t mean you don’t give us what we deserve in the quarter-cent sales tax.”

Beaulieu said he agrees with Forte-Brown, and that the district needs a funding formula that provides more certainty when it comes to county funding.

The school district’s county appropriation will remain the same as last year at $111.17 million. The $7.68 million from the quarter-cent sales tax and $1.37 million in capital outlay would bring the total local money for the district to $120.2 million if approved by county commissioners.