Lakeview approves retention stipends, signing bonuses

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 29, 2021

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — Amidst a national teacher and employee shortage, Lakeview Public Schools is taking steps to attract new employees, and keep the ones they have, with bonuses.

“The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current job market has greatly impacted the district’s ability to hire and retain staff in various job categories. The district continues to have numerous unfilled vacancies — primarily in part-time, hourly positions — negatively impacting the student services and programs,” said Tracy VanPeeren, deputy superintendent of Lakeview Public Schools, at the Oct. 19 meeting of the Board of Education.

District administrators and union leadership of the various employee groups are collaborating to address the shortages, and they were asking for the board’s approval to authorize administration to work with unions “to create a system of signing bonuses, where applicable ... developed and agreed to through letters of agreement with a temporary plan for signing bonuses,” she explained.

Additional costs will be covered by federal grant money.

The district doesn’t plan to change the current rates agreed upon in collective bargaining; instead, it plans to add signing bonuses that could boost the hourly rate during the probationary period, “so that their signing bonuses are spread over an amount of time in the regular payrolls, to have that rate be higher but not more than what current employees are making.”

“We also will be working with union leadership to have a system which has people working and staying in order to qualify ... so people don’t come, work for a day for us, get a signing bonus and then they’re gone,” she explained.

“It really is meant to address the longer term and have folks stay.”

To that end, the Board of Education also approved employee retention stipends for employees who worked during the 2020-21 fiscal year and then remained with the district into the current fiscal year. Recent legislation was passed appropriating funding to districts to address high-need areas resulting from the pandemic.

“The grant allows districts to develop and implement employee retention measures that recognize the additional demands put on our staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” VanPeeren said. “Administration feels it is appropriate to recognize our loyal staff with a monetary stipend.”

The one-time stipend would be equal to 1% of their annual base pay in 2021 and would apply to all employees who completed work during the 2021 fiscal year and continued with the district through the 2021-22 fiscal year, she said Oct. 19. It also will be paid for with federal grant funds.

Board President Daniel Dombrowski said Lakeview wouldn’t be Lakeview without its fantastic staff.

“To our staff, we’re glad that we’re able to do this. We’re in a position to be able to make this happen for those who have been here through this whole pandemic,” he said. “Thank you very much for all you have done.”

Heather Schulz, a science teacher at Jefferson Middle School and president of the Lakeview Education Association, said it is good for teachers and staff to be seen and appreciated for the work that they do, especially now.

“Lakeview is a great district, now more than ever, (and) it’s because of the people who work here,” said Schulz at the meeting. “We’re doing an excellent job, and this needs to be acknowledged — it needs to be celebrated.”

Speaking before the board considered the two measures, Schultz said that teachers and school staff felt appreciated when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit and, a year and a half later, they are still putting in the extra time and effort “to provide Lakeview students with the best educational experience, and we are succeeding.”

“It goes a long way when you feel seen and appreciated for your commitment,” she continued, telling teachers and staff that, “You are appreciated and deserve to be recognized for your time, hard work and professionalism as we continue to make Lakeview a great district.”

VanPeeren said the signing bonuses are meant to increase Lakeview’s attractiveness to employees in the short term but may be extended in the future.

“Obviously, the whole compensation package is part of the collective bargaining agreement process,” she said. “We’ll be coming back to bargaining contracts and, at that time, if something we’re implementing temporarily seems to be working, that may be something that both sides are open to entertaining as a part of the negotiation process.”