By Catharin Shepard • Editor • Hoke County Board of Education members earlier this month got checks for $4,000 each as a “staff retention bonus,” according to financial documents provided last week to the News-Journal in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
The board members additionally received checks for $600 or $1,200 each for a similar bonus in January, also reported as a “staff retention bonus” in the documents from the school district. At that time, school board Chairwoman Angela Southerland, Vice Chairwoman Catherine Blue and Ruben Castellon received $600, and board members Keisha Gill and Rosa McAllister-McRae received $1,200, the documents showed.
So far in 2023 each school board member got a total of $4,600 or $5,200 in bonuses, costing a grand total of $24,200 in bonuses for all five board members. The bonuses were dated January 13, 2023 and June 2, 2023.
The bonuses were separate from, and in addition to the board members’ regular monthly compensation and travel allotments, according to financial documents.
Each school board member receives a base pay amount of $375 a month, with the chair receiving $400 a month. The school board members also receive a $200 check each month for travel expenses, and an additional $50 for each extra meeting they attend.
From December 2022 to June 2023, the school board members have received the following amounts:
•Chairwoman Angela Southerland: $7,375 in pay and bonuses, $1,400 travel
•Vice Chairwoman Catherine Blue: $7,250 in pay and bonuses, $1,400 travel
•Ruben Castellon: $7,250 in pay and bonuses, $1,400 travel
•Keisha Gill: $7,850 in pay and bonuses, $1,400 travel
•Rosa McCallister-McRae: $7,800 in pay and bonuses, $1,400 travel
The documents provided to the newspaper did not show what funding source or sources provided the money for the staff retention bonuses for school board members. The News-Journal is waiting on answers to follow-up questions regarding the funding source or sources and other details of the bonuses. The newspaper also invited the district to provide any official statements in regards to the bonuses, and was waiting on a response as of print deadline Tuesday.
School staff who received a bonus in June reportedly received their bonuses from federal money known as ESSER – the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. ESSER is federal money administered by the United States Department of Education, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hoke County Board of Education voted to approve the employee supplement and retention bonus using ESSER funds at the board’s meeting in May. Certified, full-time employees received a $4,000 bonus and non-certified, full-time employees received a $3,000 bonus.
Hoke County Board of Commissioners Chairman Allen Thomas said last week that the county board didn’t know about the $4,000 bonus. The county approves current expense and capital outlay funding for the local part of the school district’s yearly budget. The school system also receives state and federal funds.
This year the school district asked the county for an increase to the total stipend fund for school board members. The raise asked for an additional $37,800, which would have increased the total stipend fund that pays all five board members from $25,800 to $63,600 a year – not including travel or other expenses, which are separate line items in the budget.
The budget request also included a new supplement of $12,000 for unspecified use. The total requested local expense for all Board of Education items for 2023-2024 came out to $440,457.37, an increase of $58,383.67 from last year.
However, when Hoke commissioners approved the county budget last week, the amount approved for the school system did not appear to be enough to pay for the school board member stipend raise. It did include funds that could pay for a proposed raise for bus drivers, bus monitors and mechanics.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the process is for determining when school board members receive a bonus, how much the bonus is or where that money can come from. A phone call to North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA) legal counsel and policy director Christine Scheef seeking more information received an email response saying that Scheef was out of the office this week. Phone calls to experts at the University of North Carolina School of Government for additional clarification were not immediately returned.
Southerland, Blue and Castellon were elected to the school board in November 2022 and sworn into office in December 2022. Gill and McAllister-McRae were most recently elected in 2020.
The Hoke County Board of Education is nonpartisan. Members serve four-year terms.
The documents cited here are posted below. More information will be published as it becomes available.2023-2024-DRAFT-Local-Budget.pdf-