Apr. 8—Wilson County Schools is joining other districts around the state in giving $1,000 bonuses to employees for their service during the COVID pandemic — bonuses that will cost the district $2.7 million.
Director Donna Wright suggested the move to the board, which concurred unanimously, during Monday's board meeting.
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"There's never been a year like this year," Wright told the board in arguing for the bonuses. "No other school district in the nation has endured what we've endured."
Before the COVID-19 pandemic even hit, Wilson County Schools had two campuses — West Wilson Middle School and Stoner Creek Elementary School — rendered unusable by the March 3, 2020 tornado.
The bonuses will be paid using a $768,000 increase in funding from the state for teachers and about $2 million in federal funds that can be used on non-recurring expenditures.
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools has said it plans to award $1,000 bonuses to all employees, and and Knox County Schools voted to do so last month. Lebanon Special School District Director Scott Benson said Wednesday he would be releasing information soon about bonuses in his district.
Wright told the board that everyone from administrators and teachers to educational assistants and food service workers have gone the extra mile to adapt to the changes demanded by the pandemic. She said she and the board would not be eligible for the bonuses.
The board also heard a lengthy report from Jerry Partlow about problems with the district's transportation department. The bottom line is the district cannot hire enough drivers to serve all its bus routes.
"We have routes down every day," Partlow said Monday. "We have 10 down today."
The district has 239 routes, and growth is prompting the need for more. And yes, Parlow conceded, "some of the buses are very packed."
He gave the Spence Creek subdivision, which is on TN 109 north of Lebanon Road, as an example. Currently, WCS runs one high school route in the neighborhood, two middle school routes and three elementary school routes.
"I need to add one more bus in each category," Partlow said. "That's three drivers."
Despite past pay raises that have brought new bus drivers to $17 an hour and experienced drivers to $25 an hour, Partlow said he simply can't hire enough. There was some discussion of whether offering drivers benefits would make a difference, but both Partlow and Wright said it would not.
Wright said the district has offered bus drivers use of its medical clinic, but very few are using the benefit. Partlow said "very few" drivers want benefits.
"They want money," he said. And Wright added it's hard to compete when trucking companies are offering "$8,000 sign on bonuses for CDL holders."
The board also reminded the public that Aimee Wyatt, one of two candidates to replace Wright as director, will be touring schools and at a community meeting on Friday. Jeff Luttrell, the other finalist, toured the schools, had dinner with the board and met with the community on Tuesday.
Wyatt is director of state and district partnerships with the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta and was formerly a teacher and administrator with MNPS. She will have dinner with the board then meet with the public from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Friday at the Administrative & Training Complex, 415 Harding Dr. in Lebanon.
Luttrell is WCS human resources supervisor for classified staff and a former Watertown High School principal.