ATLANTA — The Fulton County School System is earmarking a significant part of its $1.1 billion budget next year to boost employee pay and provide a hiring incentive and retention bonus for special education staff.
The fiscal year 2022 budget includes a 2 percent salary increase for all employees, plus a step increase for eligible staff members. Step increases are built into the salary schedule and provide automatic increases at certain years. The total cost of the salary adjustments is $30 million.
Additionally, special education staff will receive a retention bonus of $600 for para-professionals and $1,200 for teachers. Federal funds tied to the COVID-19 pandemic relief will cover the $2 million cost of the bonuses.
“Staffing special education is difficult,” said Chief Talent Officer Ron Wade. “It’s been critical for the 20 years I’ve [been with the district] and continues to be critical.”
He noted teacher vacancies have been relatively low this school year, but of the 300 open positions, nearly half are in special education. COVID relief funds will also help fund hiring incentives for these open positions.
Moving forward, Wade said the focus on staff appreciation is especially important a year of challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It needs to be illustrated and be part of our story how this school board and this district values its employees,” Wade said during a recent meeting of the Fulton County School Board.
The tentative FY22 budget was approved by the Fulton County School Board on May 13 and is set to be formally adopted on June 8.
Attracting top teachers
The budget includes more than $913 million dedicated solely to employee compensation, which is about 84 percent of the general fund budget. This figure is slightly higher than the current year’s budget which did not include a raise for staff, but did provide a one-time bonus.
Wade said attracting and retaining top employees is critical to the overall success of the district.
“As we look at compensation the school board has asked that we be mindful of the competitiveness of it, as well as the fiscal sustainability,” Wade said.
He noted salaries in Fulton County Schools are near the top among metro Atlanta school districts for new teachers as well as those with 15 or more years of service, and among the middle of the pack in across the other years.
The starting salary next school year for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $47,892. Wade noted the majority of the district’s 8,000 teachers hold a master’s degree and have between seven and 18 years with the district. The annual salary in that range is $58,00 to $72,000.
The Fulton School System is also reinstating it “no work no pay” guidelines that were waived for the past year because of the disruption caused by the pandemic.
“The board made some decisions to ensure frontline workers maintain and earn pay, so we did some exceptional things in an exceptional year,” Wade said.
He said that is not sustainable moving forward.
“We’re going to have to go back to paying our employees for work done and not creating a gratuity situation,” Wade said.