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Teacher bonuses approved

March 20, 2001

Teacher bonuses approved



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Teachers interested in working for Washington County public schools could start receiving signing bonuses as early as the next school year.

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The Washington County Board of Education voted Tuesday to include $35,000 for the bonuses in its $127.4 million operating budget for fiscal 2002 as an incentive to attract teachers.

The School Board adopted the operating budget Tuesday night. The total budget, which includes restricted grant money, special revenue and $9.2 million in Capital Improvement Plan funds, is about $155 million.

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School Board member Roxanne Ober said the board hasn't discussed how much of a signing bonus each new teacher would receive, but would first find out how much surrounding areas pay.

"We wanted to put in the money so we would have the option to offer it," Ober said. "We didn't talk about bonuses per person yet."

The School Board has been looking at ways to attract and retain teachers in the face of a national teacher shortage. Nearly 200 teachers in the school system are eligible to retire with full benefits, and 416 will be able to retire with full benefits over the next few years. Those 416 could retire now, but would not receive full benefits, the board has said.

The board's hope is that signing bonuses would sway teachers to choose Washington County over other school systems.

"More and more recruits today are inquiring about signing bonuses," Ray said. "That's the catch for me."

He said he thinks the bonuses will make it easier for the school system to attract teachers in the subject areas that are more difficult to fill, such as special education and secondary math and sciences.

"It's a very practical thing," Ray said.

He said seven or eight school systems in the state offered the bonuses last year and he thinks more will probably be offering them soon.

"We're a little late getting there, but we're not as late as some others," Ray said.

The School Board also agreed to add $50,000 to the $200,000 budgeted for teachers tuition reimbursement.

Ober said a negotiated agreement with the Washington County Teachers Association requires that the board pay back $200,000 a year in tuition to teachers seeking master's degrees.

She said teacher requests for reimbursements have been exceeding the $200,000 budgeted amount, which is why the School Board decided to increase it by $50,000.

"We'd like to solve the problem that we've had of running out of money," said Chris South, the board's director of finance.

The adopted budget also includes $168,000 to purchase three school buses, in case the School Board decides to convert three bus contract routes to board-run routes. Seven school bus contracts are up for renewal next year, the board has said.

Ober stressed that converting the contracted routes to county-run routes is merely an option and that the board would have to look into the situation.

The budget also includes:

--$5.3 million in salary increases for all staff

--$2.3 million in proposed health insurance rate increases

--$896,000 for 16 replacement school buses

--$329,720 in increased nonpublic school placements for special education students

--$350,000 in expected utility cost increases

--$181,000 for an expected 1 percent general inflationary increase.

The School Board is seeking $9.6 million in new money requests, with $6.9 million to come from local funds.

The board will present the budget to the Washington County Commissioners at 7 p.m. on April 2 at Western Heights Middle School. Ober said the School Board would then have time to make changes, depending on how much money the commissioners decide to contribute.

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