Fulton County Schools lifts minimum pay to $16 an hour, OKs other raises

Fulton County Schools approved a bevy of mid-year pay hikes for its employees, citing a competitive metro Atlanta employment market. AJC FILE PHOTO

Fulton County Schools approved a bevy of mid-year pay hikes for its employees, citing a competitive metro Atlanta employment market. AJC FILE PHOTO

The minimum hourly pay in Fulton County Schools will jump to $16, one of several mid-year pay hikes officials said will help recruit and retain workers in a tough job market.

The new wage will lead to raises by late January for up to 1,800 employees, the lowest paid of whom currently start at about $11 to $12 an hour.

The pay bump, approved unanimously by the school board Tuesday, will benefit food service workers, custodians, paraprofessionals and other employees.

“A mid-year pay increase is an unusual thing. Our employees have been through a lot this last 18 months, and despite the fact that we have been short-staffed they have continued to do the work,” said Superintendent Mike Looney. “And this, I believe, is a way to fairly compensate them for the extra lifting that they have been doing.”

The board also authorized additional raises and special payments, which workers will receive in December and January.

The cost of the mid-year compensation package is $28.7 million, of which about $15.3 million is for one-time payments and retention bonuses.

On Dec. 17, full-time workers will receive $1,200 and part-time workers will receive $600. The district also will give $250 to substitute teachers who work 20 days during the second semester. Retention stipends will be paid out to principals and other district leaders.

Additionally, all eligible employees, including teachers, will receive a mid-year step increase, which amounts to an average of about 2.3%.

“This act by this board certainly sets us ahead of the game when it comes to competitiveness,” said Ron Wade, who oversees the district’s human resources department. “This $16 an hour, I think, is an exceptional display of empathy, courage on the part of this board.”

The Fulton district is not alone in its push to pump up wages for its lowest earners or offer other enticements to attract or keep employees.

Last year, Atlanta Public Schools boosted its minimum wage from $12.70 to $15 an hour. APS currently is offering a $3,000 hiring bonus for virtual teachers.

Fulton officials, like other districts across the nation, have had trouble staffing front-line positions. They face competition not just from other public school districts but also from private-sector industries, restaurants, retail and gig jobs such as Uber and Lift.

“We never anticipated that we would have trouble staffing all parts of our school system from folks who work in maintenance to food service, paras,” said board member Linda McCain. “It just kind of hit the whole country at one time, so I think it’s good that we’re moving on this now.”

Fulton’s latest compensation moves are in addition to raises included in this year’s budget, approved in June. That budget included a 2% raise plus a step increase for eligible workers.

The cost of the mid-year pay increases will come from the district’s rainy day reserves. Officials said they will still have a healthy fund balance of more than $266 million when this budget year ends in June.

Looney said he expects to recommend additional pay increases as part of the district’s next budget.