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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools will spend $75 million in federal stimulus money to pay staff stipends totaling $5,000 in recognition of work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Jefferson County Board of Education approved three rounds of payments for district employees during a meeting Tuesday.

Full-time and permanent part-time JCPS staff with active contracts on July 1 who work at least one day by Aug. 20 will earn $2,500 on Sept. 17, according to board meeting materials. Those on staff as of Nov. 12 and May 6 will be paid $1,250 on Nov. 26 and May 27, respectively.

Renee Murphy, head of communications for JCPS, said the district has budgeted $75 million in federal stimulus money for the stipends.

“We know that our employees have really shown us how much they value our families and our students throughout this pandemic,” Murphy said. “They've gone above and beyond. They have taken on more responsibilities and done more than we can even ask of them, and so we want to make sure that we show that we value our employees.”

JCPS negotiated the pay bonuses with district labor unions like the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

JCTA President Brent McKim said while his organization would have liked percentage pay increases, those would have upped the district’s recurring costs.

JCPS and the school board committed to increase the salary schedules of full-time and permanent part-time employees in the 2022-23 school year under the agreement approved Tuesday.

“We were able to do a good stipend for people to try to recognize all of the amazing work that teachers have been doing over the past year and getting ready for the new year, so we felt good about that part,” McKim said, adding that 97% of JCTA members voted in favor of the $5,000 stipends. “We wish it could have been more recurring, but we did get a commitment for at least a 1.5% recurring increase after this year.”

Sue Foster, president of the Jefferson County Association of Educational Support Personnel, called the stipends “fair and equitable” as support staff navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many faced new expenses as learning transitioned to remote instruction on things like computers, cellular phones and upgraded internet service “even though they're the lowest paid employees,” she said.

“Had it not been for (nontraditional instruction), they would never have gone into that debt,” Foster said.

JCPS hopes the stipends improve staff retention, Murphy said. Kentucky’s largest school district is among several across the U.S. using federal stimulus money for such pay bonuses.

“We've been very intentional here recently about addressing teachers’ needs making sure that we're supportive of our instructors in the classroom, and I think our retention efforts are really paying off and we're seeing more teachers stay with us,” Murphy said.

McKim agreed, saying the pay bonuses may help convince teachers on the fence about retiring to stay in JCPS classrooms.

“I think there are a lot of experienced educators that are trying to decide whether to come back this coming school year or retire, and I think the prospect of the additional stipend added to their salary, which would figure into their pension calculation, will help a lot of experienced, great teachers get to yes on coming back,” he said.

Staffing in other areas is more of a concern, Murphy said. The JCPS board extended base pay rate increases for bus drivers, special needs transportation assistants, custodians and nutrition service workers through July.

Last month, the district had about 120 vacancies in nutrition services, Foster said.

“There are still areas where we need to seek additional people to help us to fill some of those spots,” Murphy said.

Foster believes increasing a “broken” pay scale for support staff will help attract and keep more people in those roles.

“It's a dinosaur, and we're going to have to address it,” she said. “… When a 20-year employee is making less than a brand new employee right down the street at Costco with the same benefits, it's got to change.”

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