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Memphis superintendent asks for $2,000 ‘hero bonus’ for all staff, though chances are slim

Some district staff have already returned to in-person work such as student laptop distribution.
Shelby County Schools

Superintendent Joris Ray wants to pay a $2,000 “hero bonus” to all Shelby County Schools staff — even as he acknowledged funding was a longshot.

The proposed bonus would account for $30 million of the $72 million Ray requested Wednesday from county commissioners.

“I don’t want anyone to say we didn’t ask,” Ray said, as he updated elected officials on the district’s remote-only learning plan.

Shelby County Schools will start its academic year fully virtual on Aug. 31.

Ray said staff have worked tirelessly during their summer break to prepare for remote learning and provide students with food, laptops, and other help.

“We would love to show that support financially, but we need resources to do that,” he told commissioners.

The county commission rejected the district’s request for a $46 million increase to their budget earlier this year.

Michael Whaley, who leads the county commission’s education committee, said any additional money during this “very tight” year would be difficult to come by.

“That said, I think if there was a major area we could focus additional CARES grant dollars, it would be to help our students stay on track,” he said, referring to a second round of coronavirus relief that U.S. lawmakers are currently hammering out. He also said the county commission still has about $8 million of federal money it can allocate for community needs.

Gov. Bill Lee’s initial budget included a pay increase for teachers statewide, but it was eventually scrapped as tax revenue projections plummeted amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus. Ray had been relying on the state budget for the district’s proposed 1% teacher salary increase, which was later eliminated.

Ray’s request would be the only extra money for staff proposed for this school year.

The bonus would be tantamount to hazard pay. Some staff have already returned to district buildings to distribute laptops to students or do other planning. Ray has said teachers will have the option to work remotely or from their classrooms as coronavirus cases rise in the county and hospital capacity shrinks.

The $72 million ask also includes $23 million over four years to boost internet connectivity for students, $6 million for teacher laptops, $6 million for personal protective equipment, $5 million for summer learning in 2021, and $1 million each for student digital training and emotional supports.

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