By Richard Sullins |

Leadership for the Lee County Board of Education is on the agenda at the body’s next meeting, set for Tuesday, Dec. 14.

Republican Sandra Bowen has served as board chair since December 2020, and the current vice chair, Christine Hilliard, was elected to her position the same year time as a Republican before switching parties in September. Democrats now control the board by a 4-3 margin.

The board will also do its monthly review of the district’s masking policy for students, teachers, staff, and visitors. But as COVID numbers are on the rise again, a change in the policy seems unlikely this month.

Board members voted November 9 to leave the current masking mandate in place until 10 consecutive calendar days of “moderate-level” transmission of the COVID virus have been recorded in the county. After the most recent surge that occurred through Labor Day weekend, infection rates had continued to fall and there was optimism that masking could end soon.

But five days after Thanksgiving, 95 of the state’s 100 counties – including Lee – had returned to “high-level” community transmission. The percentage of tests returned from labs with a positive doubled in just two weeks, rising from 3.13 percent just before the holiday to 7.77 percent on December 10.

The school board will also consider an employee retention bonus plan that was approved by its Finance Committee last Wednesday, one that would provide an additional $2,000 bonus to all full-time employees, both certified and classified employees.

The plan would also set up a tiered system for substitute teachers that would be pro-rated on the number of days they have spent in the classroom. Substitutes would be divided into four groups, with those having the most days to receive a $2,000 bonus. Those in the remaining three groups would receive either $1,500, $1,000, or $500 based on their days of service.

Funding for the plan would come from federal dollars provided by the U.S. Department of Education’s ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) Fund and have no impact on the county budget. If the board approves, these bonuses could be paid before the Christmas break.

The meeting is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Jimmy Love Sr. Board Room at Lee County High School.