Carlos Childs was heartbroken when he learned the Florida Legislature had set aside more than $200 million to give classroom teachers and principals $1,000 each for working to keep schools open during the pandemic.
As a family and community liaison at Campbell Park Elementary in St. Petersburg, he is one of thousands of school workers who didn’t qualify for the bonus.
“Without us, it’s pretty hard to run the schools,” Childs said. “It made us feel not valued.”
That was not a message that the Pinellas County school district wanted to advance. So the administration and School Board moved to make up the difference.
The board decided to use $7.3 million of the federal stimulus funds it received to give $1,000 bonuses to about 7,000 non-classroom teachers, support personnel and all other full-time staff. To qualify, they will have to have worked in the district since Dec. 19 and remained employed through April 30.
The representatives for the administration and bargaining units signed the agreement on June 7.
“We have talked about, and meant all along, that every person in our district worked all year to innovate, to reimagine what they were doing,” board chairperson Carol Cook said. “Everybody had to stop and look at things differently. They all deserve it.”
Cook said she hoped the checks could go out before classes resume in August, to help everyone during the summer months when many employees are not working for the schools. The timing has not been determined yet, because the district is waiting for information on how the state intends to distribute the bonuses it established.
Childs, a 10-month employee who works at city summer camps during the break, said he would welcome the bonus whenever it comes.
“We don’t make the kind of money the instructional staff makes,” he said. “That can really help get through the summer.”
The notion that the state ignored some school staff while applauding others was not singular to Pinellas County.
Assistant principals, guidance counselors, bus drivers and others statewide came forward to say that while classroom teachers and principals deserved the attention, so, too, did everyone else who made it possible for schools to reopen, which in turn sparked the economy.
The Brevard County School Board approved additional $1,000 bonuses for all its employees, to recognize their commitment. Union leaders in Hillsborough and Pasco counties said they have approached their districts for similar consideration.
Neither has arrived at a deal yet.
It’s also not the first time the state has given preference to classroom teachers over those who work in other school roles. A year ago, the Legislature approved $500 million for classroom teacher pay raises, passing over other instructional staff and providing little for support workers.
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A similar divide existed in the state’s now-canceled Best and Brightest bonus program.
In each instance, several districts turned to their local budgets to give extra to employees the state did not include.
Nikita Ross, a data management technician at Lakewood Elementary in St. Petersburg, said she appreciated the Pinellas district stepping up this summer.
“At the end of the day, we behind-the-scenes (staff) help make things flow,” said Ross, who oversees attendance reporting and class schedules, among other jobs at her school. “It means a lot to know we’re all being thought about.”