Gwinnett extends one-time bonus to thousands more employees

Gwinnett County Public Schools board members Thursday approved a one-time bonus of $700 to all active employees eligible for benefits, after limiting the bonus last month to teachers and other employees on their salary schedule.

The board last month approved a $700 bonus for 12,000 teachers, counselors, speech language pathologists and others on the same salary schedule. This month’s vote extends the stipend to 9,000 more employees, including support personnel and school administrators, at an additional cost of $8 million.

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After the teachers’ bonus was approved, some support staff, such as school nurses and bus drivers, complained they’d been left out although they too were taking on risk by working through the coronavirus pandemic. Buford City Schools this month gave bonuses to all employees and Atlanta Public Schools gave $1,000 to active full-time employees and others who work at least 29 hours a week.

In a news release, Gwinnett County Public Schools said Thursday that the board delayed extending the bonus to all benefit-eligible employees to manage cash flow. Property tax bills in the county were sent out about 45 days later than in the past because of the pandemic and a change to include a new tax, according to the school district.

“By announcing the one-time payment adjustment in two phases, the district was able to ensure it would be able to afford it without dipping into its end-of-the-year fund balance,” explains Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said in the news release. “We know when we made the announcement for teachers last month that many of our other employees had questions. This has been a challenging year for all of our employees, and the board and I are pleased that we are able to extend the one-time payment adjustment to include other categories of employees.”

Employees on the teacher salary schedule will receive their bonuses this month. The rest will see the extra amount in their January monthly paychecks, according to the school district.

Destiny McCowan, a special education paraprofessional, told the school board during public comment Thursday that support staff still felt disrespected after not being included in the bonus initially.

“It hurts to be felt as an afterthought,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution afterward. “I appreciate the gesture, but why did it take backlash? Why did it take outcry for this to happen?”