SMSD staff who stay next year will again get bonuses — but no more planned after that

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For the fourth straight year, Shawnee Mission School District employees who qualify can get retention bonuses paid for with federal funds. And for a fourth time, the amount of those bonuses is increasing.

District school board members Monday night approved one-time bonuses of $1,400 for employees who meet the qualifying criteria. In total, the program will cost about $4.5 million, all to be paid for by federal coronavirus relief money.

The federal money to pay for those bonuses is running out this year, so this will be the final retention bonus, said Superintendent Michelle Hubbard.

“This is our fourth year in a row for the retention payment — and final. And final, and final,” Hubbard said. “It’s been really amazing that we’ve been able to do this for our employees, and I feel very fortunate that we have been able to. But I also need to be really clear: (Federal) funds are gone, and this will be the final retention payment.”

Who pays for the retention bonuses?

The money is allocated through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, or ESSER, and is dedicated to grades kindergarten through 12. The first two tranches of ESSER money have already lapsed, and the current one must be obligated by September.

ESSER money has been used by school districts nationwide to help with post-pandemic expenses to reopen schools and address students’ mental health needs and learning loss. Money has also gone towards attempts at retaining staff.

The bonus amounts have been trending upwards since the pandemic.

In September 2022, Shawnee Mission issued one-time $700 bonuses to qualifying employees who had worked through the 2021-22 COVID-impacted years. That was at a cost of $2.3 million paid from federal pandemic relief money.

In April 2023, the board approved $1,000 bonuses to 3,600 employees, paid again with federal money.

How does an employee qualify for these new retention bonus?

To qualify, an employee must:

  • be employed on or before Jan. 25,2024,
  • have completed the 2023-24 school year contract with no employment gap,
  • plan to continue employment for the 2024-25 school year,
  • and still be employed by the district when the office processes the payment around Sept. 5, 2024.

The decision comes as school districts throughout the country have had difficulty retaining teachers and staff.

A study by the National Center for Educational Statistics showed Kansas was second in the country in the percentage of teachers leaving the profession in the 2021-22 school year. Kansas, with 12.2%, was below only Vermont with 17.4%.

Staffing positions have also proved hard to keep filled. Last fall, the district began offering signing bonuses to paraeducators, food service managers, custodians and other positions that have been hard to fill.

The board approved the latest bonuses unanimously with little discussion.

Other K-12 education news: Shawnee Mission says 9 schools too crowded to accept open enrollment transfers

About the author

Roxie Hammill
Roxie Hammill

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.