The bonus, which will be added to the December 18 paychecks of 765 Decatur County school employees, is not being called a “Christmas bonus,” but rather a means of providing incentive for employees, both teachers and staff, to remain happy about working in Bainbridge, School Superintendent Dr. Fred Rayfield said Tuesday.
The bonuses will cost the school system approximately $397,000.
The timing of the one-time bonus is because December is actually the mid-way point of Decatur County schools’ fiscal year, which begins on July 1 and ends on June 30 of the next calendar year.
Rayfield, who was a school superintendent in Cook County before coming to Decatur County, said that in the past, whenever the Georgia Department of Education gave two-percent raises to teachers, he has tried to follow up with raises for other employees at the local level, including paraprofessionals, office and support staff, custodians and maintenance crews.
Back in spring of 2015, when Board of Education staff were drafting the school system’s budget for the current fiscal year, the possibility of providing those “across-the-board” raises at the local level was explored, Rayfield said.
“It quickly became clear after running the numbers that we weren’t going to be able to afford to do that,” Rayfield said. “Both the Board of Education members and staff asked whether anything else could be done.”
Rayfield said he views the bonuses as one way of providing incentive to school system employees to “stay and work for us.” He noted that other counties’ school systems in some parts of the state actually give hiring bonuses for teachers to move there.
“Things have been trending negative for [our employees] for some time, when it comes to salaries and benefits,” Rayfield said.
For example, after the economic downturn of 2008, Decatur County Board of Education employees had several years containing furloughs-days on which they had to remain home without pay. The 2015-2016 school year is just the second year without any furlough days, according to Rayfield.
Board of Education finance director Tim Matthews presented the Board of Education with three proposed options: one time bonuses in the amounts of $300, $400 and $500.
Rayfield said that after reviewing county schools’ financial situation, he and Matthews felt comfortable with advocating for some form of bonus, primarily because the school system has about $4.8 million in reserves. While that total sounds like a lot, it’s about 12 percent of the Board of Education’s annual budget. Any future bonuses or pay raises will have to be evaluated carefully, Rayfield said. When the Board of Education approves its budget in June, it doesn’t yet have some key figures in front of it: how much the county’s total tax digest will be worth, and how the cost of providing health insurance to its employees will change.
The City of Bainbridge has been providing an annual bonus to its employees for several years, also in December. The Bainbridge City Council votes each year in November on whether or not to give each of the city’s approximately 150 employees a bonus of $100 in Bainbridge Bucks (which are essentially gift certificates that can be used at a number of local businesses who are Chamber of Commerce members). The City of Bainbridge’s annual employee bonus costs about $15,000 per year.