The Waco Independent School District will spend $8.6 million in pandemic aid over the next few years to give teaches up to $10,000 in bonuses and custodians and cafeteria workers up to $1,000 in bonuses.
The Waco ISD board unanimously approved a plan Thursday to pay out the bonuses, which vary depending on hire date, over three years starting in December of next year.
“Considering the shortage of certified teachers throughout the State of Texas, it’s essential that we show our appreciation and encourage our best and brightest to stay in Waco ISD,” Superintendent Susan Kincannon said in a statement Friday. “Getting our teachers in place, providing our students with stability is really important right now and we want our students to succeed.”
The district’s projected turnover rate this year is 21%, said Josie Gutierrez, assistant superintendent for human resources. That is down from 26% two years ago, but higher than the 17% experienced last year.
A typical year also finds the district filling 12 to 15 custodian positions and 35 to 40 cafeteria positions.
The bonus plan, funded by federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief money intended for pandemic recovery, would provide add-on bonuses for teachers, custodians and cafeteria workers paid out over several years.
Veteran and new teachers starting in August qualify for a $10,000 bonus paid out in three installments, starting in December 2022 and ending September 2024, when the federal grant ends. Teachers who start in August 2022 would get $5,000 divided over two installments while those beginning in August 2023 would receive a one-time payment of $2,500 in September 2024. The district expects $8.1 million in bonuses to go to teaches.
Custodians and cafeteria workers would receive retention bonuses based on years served with Waco ISD, also paid out over several years. Those who have worked for 10 years or more will receive $1,000, divided in three payments beginning in December 2022. Those who have worked for 5 to 9 years will get $750, and those with the district fewer than five years will get $500. Anyone hired after August will not be eligible for the businesses. The district expects $500,500 in bonuses to go to custodians and cafeteria workers.
School administrators across the state fear an upcoming teacher shortage this year after the stress of a COVID-19-altered school year caused thousands to retire or leave the profession. Gutierrez said the district should have a better sense of teacher hiring needs by the month’s end, but she is cautiously optimistic that critical positions would be staffed by the start of school in August.
In addition to the retention bonuses, more money for Waco ISD teachers and staffers may soon be on the way. Trustees at Thursday’s work session heard the administration’s proposal for a $3.7 million increase in the district’s salary schedule that would mean an approximately 3% raise for all employee groups, roughly $1,600 more for teachers and a bump in the starting salary for a beginning teacher from $49,100 to $50,250.
The proposal also recommends an additional $504,236 to increase academic, athletic and fine arts stipends for teachers taking on additional duties in designated fields and activities. That amount also would cover stipends for new teacher-leadership positions.
“We’re being as creative as we need to be,” Gutierrez said.
With the retention bonuses, proposed salary and stipend increases and leadership add-ons under discussion, some Waco school teacher salaries could conceivably top six figures in future years, she said.