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North Little Rock district joins others in pandemic pay

All eligible employees will be given extra compensation at a daily rate of $15.27 by Stephen Simpson | June 7, 2021 at 6:58 a.m.
A speed limit sign for a school zone in El Dorado is shown in this 2015 file photo.

School districts across Central Arkansas are giving additional compensation to staff for working during the covid-19 pandemic, but the proposed payments vary.

The North Little Rock School Board during a special meeting Thursday approved giving school district staff members additional compensation for their work, which has included providing both in-person and online lessons to students as well as sanitizing facilities and otherwise defending against the coronavirus.

The compensation will be paid at a rate of $15.27 a day for all eligible employees and will be based upon their on-site attendance for the 178 student contact days. The extra payment could amount to more than $1,600 after taxes.

The extra pay will be funded by the school district's Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund given to the district by the federal government.

Before passing the resolution, a few School Board members expressed concerns about equality and justification for the payments.

Board member J.T. Zakrzewski said he wanted to make sure teachers and staff were compensated for their daily pay rate even if they were off campus for two hours for meetings or training.

Finance Director Brian Brown said meetings and training have been tracked throughout the school year and will count as a school day.

School Board member Natalie Wankum also suggested removing administrators, supervisors and other staff members who worked at the central office from the pay compensation because they weren't working at the actual schools during the pandemic.

"Our teachers, our cafeteria workers, they put their lives on the line every day," she said. "Finance, Human Resources, the communications coordinator, they were on Zoom. They didn't walk the halls."

School Board member Dorothy Williams said despite the central office not being on campus, covid cases made their way into the building and that alone justified the additional payments.

"I believe in equity," she said. "What is good for one is good for all."

Brown said the school district's additional compensation resolution was given to the Arkansas Department of Education to be reviewed and district officials implemented several changes to the original document because of suggestions they received.

Spokesperson Kimberly Mundell of the Education Department, said the department doesn't require a review of additional pay, nor does it approve additional pay. She said the department supports districts and have been asked to read several written plans.

"As noted in the ESSER guidance, a district must have a written plan approved by its local school board to be able to utilize ESSER funds," Mundell said in an email Friday. "Also, please note that all ESSER expenditures must be COVID-related, reasonable, and necessary."

The North Little Rock School district is one of several districts in Arkansas providing one-time payments to employees for their work in the pandemic school year.

The Pulaski County Special School District's School Board voted 5-0 at a special meeting in May to support the additional compensation that will be paid at a rate of $12.53 a day.

The extra payment could amount to more than $2,000 for a teacher who has a standard 190-day contract, and up to $2,800 for district employees who typically work year-round. However, district employees will not receive extra compensation for any days they weren't on-site for reasons such as illness, quarantine as a result of covid-19 exposure, or inclement weather days when the buildings weren't open.

The Bryant School Board approved in May a nonrecurring salary payment at a daily rate of $8 per day for each student interaction day on-site. The maximum additional compensation for a single employee who had perfect attendance would be $1,344.

The Little Rock School Board voted 8-1 in support of the district's plan to provide an $11-a-day payment for eligible employees in recognition of their extra work during the pandemic. The proposal will cost the district an estimated $7.1 million. When fringe benefits are added to that, the total climbs to about $8.74 million.

For most teachers, who have 190-day contracts, the pandemic compensation will amount to $2,090.

The Jacksonville/North Pulaski School Board voted 7-0 to give $750 bonuses to all contracted employees.

Liz Massey, spokeswoman for Cabot Public Schools, said the school district provided an across-the-board raise for all staff utilizing district funds.

"[This is] not from ESSER funds which must be COVID related," she said in an email.

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