Teachers and school system employees won't get a bonus in time for Christmas this year.
After a heated discussion over how best to spend federal grant money, the Hamilton County Board of Education voted Thursday night to table the discussion of one-time $400 and $500 bonuses for all school system employees.
"I know teachers work hard, but so do I," said board member Rhonda Thurman, who voted to table the item. "I have received many letters from people asking me to support this bonus. ... I'm sorry, but given the economic times, I just think this is foolhardy."
Most of the $2.5 million cost of the bonuses is left over from a federal jobs stimulus package. Because that money only can be used for classroom-based expenses, Superintendent Jim Scales had suggested taking $350,000 from the general purpose budget to give bonuses to classified employees.
"These funds must be used by September of 2012, and we could use it for pension funds, to rehire teachers who have been dismissed, for bonuses or put it into retirement accounts," Scales said. "Because our teachers and principals have been under quite a bit of stress with implementing the new standards over the last few years, we thought it would be good to provide a bonus."
Since the federal money cannot be used for operations costs or to buy property, board member Mike Evatt suggested shuffling it back into the general purpose budget to free up money to acquire land for new schools.
"It would put us a step ahead of the County Commission," said Evatt, who made the motion to table the bonus discussion.
Board member Jeffrey Wilson, who was in favor of giving the bonuses, said the issue came down to whether board members valued people or property.
"There will never be enough money. ... There's always something else the school board could do with the money, but I value the employees," he said. "This money is not going to solve the world's problems, but it's a token gesture to that person."
Afterwards, representatives with the Hamilton County Education Association said they thought the fact that information about the potential bonuses had been discussed in the media before board members knew about it affected the vote.
"Everyone is disappointed in this vote; we feel the teachers got caught in the middle," said Rhonda Catanzaro, a local liaison with the Tennessee Education Association. "If the board had a problem with the way the superintendent handled the bonus, they should take it up with him."
Catanzaro said she hopes the board will revisit the issue.
"It's been tabled; that's good news," she said. "I'd rather it be tabled than voted down."
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