By Richard Sullins |

Just in time for the holiday season, the 1,201 employees of Lee County Schools will be receiving a performance bonus, if the plan proposed by Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan is approved at the Board of Education’s next meeting in October. Bryan presented the proposal at the Board’s Finance Committee meeting on September 30, where it received an enthusiastic reception.

The Superintendent said that the one-time bonuses are being awarded “in recognition of a job well done by this amazing group of professionals who have done more than anyone could have asked or expected. This is in gratitude for their incredible service.”

The total cost of the bonuses is just over $4.1 million.

Finance Committee Chair Pamela Sutton agreed, saying, “our employees have been challenged with things this year that they have never been challenged with before. I’m so glad we are going to be able to show our thanks to them in a way that will help them, and help their families, too.”

Board member Sherry Lynn Womack spoke of “seeing teachers bring home bags of supplies and materials every week that they have purchased out of their own pockets because there hasn’t been enough funding for them to be in the classroom, and I am so very grateful that the Board will at last be able to provide this demonstration to them of how much they are valued.”

The plan is a response to a suggestion made at the September 14 Board meeting by member Patrick Kelly to look for ways to improve morale among school employees and prevent teachers from feeling overwhelmed from the additional workloads they have taken on during the COVID pandemic and the shifts in the way students are learning because of it.

Under the plan, all permanent and full-time employees, both certified and classified, who are employed as of November 15, 2021, will receive a $2,000 bonus. All permanent part-time employees, again both certified and classified, who work less than 6 hours per day and who are employed at of November 15 will receive a prorated bonus.

Contracted employees, as well as those who submit their resignation from the school system on or before November 15, will not receive the bonus.

But there is more. In addition to the $2,000 bonus, the district will also provide a one-time longevity bonus, with the amount determined by the date of the employee’s most recent hire. The longevity bonuses range from $250 for 0 to 4 years of service with the district to as much as $3,000 for the 35 employees who have worked with Lee County Schools for 25 years or more. The combined maximum amount of the bonus any employee could receive is $5,000.

The amount of each bonus is calculated based on the most recent number of years in service with the school system. If an employee had a break in service with Lee County Schools and later returned, the date used to determine the amount of the legacy bonus will be the employee’s most recent hire date.

The district-wide and longevity bonuses will be paid together in one check, which Bryan said he hopes teachers will receive just before the Thanksgiving holidays.

This action by the Board comes at a critical time as many teachers across the country seem increasingly closer to burnout after 18 months of providing instruction and support in the midst of a pandemic, something that few of them were likely prepared for. This sort of exhaustion has been perhaps toughest on young teachers who are still early in their careers. In Lee County, half of its employees are at risk, with 618 of its 1,201 staff members having 4 or fewer years’ total experience working with students.

Recent national studies of teacher burnout have produced distressing results. One that was conducted by the RAND Corporation found that 78 percent of teachers who were surveyed reported frequent job-related stress during the 2020-2021 school year, compared to just 40 percent of other working adults. Perhaps of even greater concern is another finding in the study that 27 percent of teachers reported symptoms of depression last year, compared to 10 percent of other adults. Studies by the Brookings Institute and others have yielded similar outcomes.

The proposal will be presented and voted upon at the Board of Education’s next regular meeting on October 12.