Hoke County Schools to pay retention bonus for bus drivers and monitors

Board of Education submits bids for auditing services

School buses are lined up at a maintenance facility. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

RAEFORD — The Hoke County Board of Education met Tuesday, February 7, with a few contract matters on the agenda.

The board was presented with the option to renew a $27,750 contract with Anderson Smith and Wike, PLLC – who have been serving Hoke County Schools for 10 years – for auditing services for the 2022-23 school year.

“They specialize in school audits and currently audit 75 out of the 115 school districts within the state of North Carolina,” said Finance Officer Wannaa Chavis. “The lead auditor has 30 years of experience in school auditing, and the second auditor that usually comes with him has 15 years of experience, and they normally have two other auditors with them as well. Last year one of those four members was a former finance officer with 30 years of experience.”

However, concerns arose among the board members over the length of time that Hoke County Schools has been with a single auditor.

“I remember 10 years ago when we got with them, the auditor, Dale Smith, talked about how we shouldn’t have the same auditor for such a long period of time because you start developing relationships,” said board member Rosa McAllister-McRae. “You start getting to know one another, and I think at that time, we had had someone for about 30 years. They talked about how it should be a five-year span, and then we should sort of move on.”

Beyond that, board member Keisha Gill brought up an ongoing issue the district had been having regarding overlapping payments for bus drivers and teacher assistants that many on the board felt the auditor should have caught.

“Regardless of what samples he was given, there should have been one sample in there that he was able to review because I’m just kind of curious why with the samples that were given to him, he didn’t catch any of that. As long as that went on, there should have been at least one sample that identified the issue there.”

Following those concerns, the board voted to direct the administrator to put out an RFP for auditing services to look for a replacement firm. Board member McAllister-McRae was the lone nay.

The board also approved the 2022-23 Summer Program Plan.

“The summer program plan is available for our students in grades 3 through 12 who passed the course but were not proficient on the end-of-grade or end-of-course assessments,” said Director of Testing and Accountability Melissa Ward. “So during the program, our students will receive remediation and be given the opportunities to be successful on the required state assessments. The program would begin after the instructional year, which would be June 2, and would conclude by June 29.”

After being tabled in their last meeting, the board was presented again with a potential contract with Global Teaching Partners, a third-party international teacher acquisition organization.

“It’s a cultural exchange program that is a three-year initial J-1 visa with the option to extend for two years,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Shawn O’Connor. “Essentially, when we have teachers that are on J-1 visas, they will be here for five years. Now, we are coming to the end of a lot of our initial five-year commitments. So we are coming to a point where teachers are going back to their home countries because J-1 visas do come with a two-year criteria of being back in your home country residence before you can seek another visa.”

“The teachers that we get through this are teachers that are coming here knowing the North Carolina standards that they would be teaching in whatever their respective field would be. They handle the licensure requirements, they do international background checks before anyone is even vetted to be offered on a roster for us to hire, and so there are a lot of benefits in working with a third party, most importantly that we’re not an issuer of visas ourselves as an organization.”

According to O’Connor, Hoke County Schools currently has 30 international faculty working at nine schools and representing eight countries.

“Global does the initial orientation where they bring people through RDU, and then they go through kind of like a cultural boot camp of what to expect in a public school in not only North Carolina but the United States. They get them arranged with a driver’s license, living arrangements, how to get their utilities set up, how to insure a car, get a car, all those kinds of things so that by the time they start with us, they’re not worried about those things.”

However, the board had concerns with the program, namely the cost and the desire for domestic teachers.

For the first part, O’Connor explained that, in fact, the district would be paying less per international teacher than a domestic one.

“The cost is $17,500 [to Global Teaching PArtners for each hire], but we don’t pay full retirement for these individuals. We also don’t pay certain benefits for these individuals. In the past, the way that this has worked out is that an international teacher may cost us just at the base pay, $52,000. And then we pay $17,500 to the company that pays for all that, which puts us at around $69,000, but the state still reimburses that teacher position as if it is paying benefits, so the state reimburses as $74,000 or whatever it might be for that position. So we’re not paying an extra $17,500 on top of what a regular teacher in that position would make.”

However, the board still had big concerns over outsourcing teachers.

“We should try the best way possible to recruit here in the states,” said Board Chair Angela Southerland. “If we have this $17,500 available, maybe we should use that as a sign-on bonus or something, but we need to do something here in the states if we have people graduating from college. I think we should try here first. We have one contract [for international teachers] in place that’s already being negotiated, so I don’t think we need all of them right now. I think we should take this money and try to find someone here.”

After discussion, the motion for the contract failed.

Finally, the board approved a bus driver retention bonus for both regular and yellow bus drivers and bus monitors.

“The bonus is to show appreciation to these staff members for their hard work, dedication, and long hours that have been completed on a daily basis,” said Assistant Superintendent of Operations and Information Systems Dr. Chad Hunt. “The approach will allow a staff member that has served as either a bus monitor or a regular yellow bus driver during the 2022-23 academic year to receive a maximum bonus allowance of $1,450.”

“The bonus amount is determined by the number of hours that the staff member has contributed in the capacity of a bus monitor or bus driver,” Hunt continued. “If the staff member has worked in either capacity between 10 to 60 hours, the staff member will receive a $362.50 bonus. If they serve in that capacity between 61 and 120 hours, the staff member will receive $725. And if they serve in that capacity over 121 hours, that staff member will receive the full total of $1,450. The staff member would have served in this capacity in accumulation of these hours during this academic year from the first day of school through February 28, 2023. The bonus will be a one-time payment which will be paid on March 17, 2023. Under option one, the school system will incur an approximate total cost of $241,943.”

According to Hunt, there are currently about 97 bus drivers who qualify for the maximum bonus.

The Hoke County Board of Education will next meet March 14.