Geary County Schools USD 475 Board of Education approved a plan for staff pay incentives to help accomplish its retention and recruitment goal listed in the school district’s 2021-2026 Strategic Plan.

The plan would offer incentives to maintain employment in the 2022-2023 school year and support good attendance for the current school year. The plan was sent to the Kansas State Board of Education for approval. If approved, the incentives would begin on Jan. 1.

Personnel Services Director Tim Winter said USD 475 currently has a staff shortage, with more than 30 teaching positions open. Additionally, they need more support staff, such as paraeducators, classroom aids and substitute teachers.

“To address learning loss, it would be helpful if we had those positions filled or, at least to some increased level, we had more people in those positions, which is where we come up with a retention incentive,” he said. “All staff members have been impacted by the challenges of covid, whether its directly in the classroom or in a support role.”

The incentives will be paid through the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) Fund, a government grant, and will cost a million to 1.5 million each quarter, Winter said.

Winter said they hope retention incentives will signify the importance of having people in their positions and working with students to assist with learning loss.

The retention plan includes an opportunity for all full-time staff members across the district to earn $1,000 in premium retention incentive per quarter. Staff members must maintain 95% attendance to receive the extra pay. If a staff member doesn’t have 95% attendance in one quarter, they still have a shot at getting the incentive the following quarter.

Part-time employees who work between 17.5 and 30 hours a week can earn $750 per quarter in retention incentive, and part-time employees who work less than 17.5 hours a week can earn $500 per quarter.

Superintendent Dr. Reginald Eggleston said they will create a list of situations that would count as exemptions to the 95% attendance. Winter said a list of exemptions requested by staff each quarter will be placed on the agenda for the following board meeting and would be evaluated for approval.

“We’re hoping to move the needle a little bit to encourage people to stay and work when they have a choice to decrease the number of days we have substitutes in the classroom and also just show them that we appreciate their extra efforts,” Eggleston said. “We appreciate the challenges they go through on a daily basis, and hopefully a program like this can attract other people to our district as well.”

Around 80% of the staff had 95% attendance in the first quarter of the school year, Eggleston said, but their goal is to get close to 90% or more.

An additional retention incentive is available for those who work directly in the school buildings and offices, Winter said. They can earn an extra $750 in premium incentive, spread out among the three quarters, so long as they maintain that 95% attendance rate.

Also, any staff member that currently works for the district will receive a $1,000 retention payment if they return in the fall of 2022.

“We didn’t just look at this year, but we also began looking at how we wanted to recruit for the upcoming year because hopefully, we can curtail some of what we experienced this year by having qualified people in place.” Eggleston said. “We want to keep as many teachers as possible in the district for the following school year, and that’s one way of doing that to tell them thanks for coming back to work with our students.”

New staff hired for the remainder of this school year or to start in the 2022/2023 school year will receive $750. Someone who was hired for the remainder of this school year would get the recruitment payment and also the $1,000 retention pay if they stayed for the next school year.

Winter said the school district also has days substitute assignments are unfilled, so the district is offering incentives for substitute teachers to work more, as well.

A substitute who fulfills 30 days of substitute assignments, whether partial or full days, during a given quarter qualifies for $250 per quarter.

If the plan is approved, Winter said the district will information staff on the incentives through inter-office email and the district’s literature. Staff will have the opportunity to ask questions concerning the plan.

Eggleston said the school board hopes to approve continuing the incentive plan through the upcoming school year as well.

“What we’ve experienced with the academic loss (of students) will probably be in front of us for the next two to three years,” Eggleston said.

Winter said once the initial plan is approved, the board would meet again to approve continuing the plan and that update would be sent to the state for approval.