Should DCSD pay employees a ‘vaccine bonus’?
By Bobby Bryant, Editor
A Darlington County school board member strongly objected last week when school district officials brought up the possibility of paying employees a “vaccine bonus” for getting immunized against COVID-19. The district doesn’t mandate that its employees get a COVID vaccine, but has encouraged them to do so, at one point setting up a mass COVID clinic at Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center in Hartsville. County Education Superintendent Tim Newman brought up “vaccine bonuses” as a possibility at the board’s June 14 meeting. At least one Pee Dee district, the Marlboro County School District, is offering $500 to vaccinated employees, according to news reports. “The concept is that we can potentially offer a bonus to any of our employees that show they have been vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination,” Newman told the board. “ … This is an initial discussion to talk with the board about it – but if we chose to do something like that, we would certainly (use) a later date where people would have an opportunity to participate … by a certain date.” “I think you’re going to see this accelerate with many districts around the state, probably around the country as well,” Newman said of the “vaccine bonus” idea. Board member Charles Govan suggested that the district should consider this idea sooner rather than later. Since other districts have already “put out how much money they’re going to give” in bonuses, and since the Darlington County School District wants to retain its current employees, Govan suggested the district should act “fairly soon” on bonuses. Board member Jamie Morphis questioned the concept. “You’re saying we’re going to pay employees to get their shots?” he asked. “You’re paying for proof that they have been vaccinated,” Newman said. “I think this country’s almost gone crazy,” Morphis said. “ … I don’t know where we’re going. So next time we have a pandemic, what are we going to do? Wait around for money on that? I think it’s a moral thing, I guess. … That bothers me a lot.” “What’s going to happen the next time?” Morphis asked. “This isn’t our school board’s issue (alone), but again, I think it’s a moral issue for our country. … It’s a scary thing. It’s just like we talked about the money – all the money that’s being doled out to the school districts (for COVID relief) – millions of dollars. … Are we thinking about the long-term consequences of this, the cost of this to the people, to the public?” In other business last week, the board took its final vote on the school district’s $98 million budget for the next fiscal year – a budget that includes “step” increases in teachers’ pay. School district spokeswoman Audrey Childers explains it like this: “Teachers are paid on an annual salary scale. For each full year that a teacher works, the teacher takes a step up on the salary scale, thus the ‘step’ increases. These step increases are set by the state Department of Education and mandated by the Legislature.” Last year, as all school districts statewide struggled with the pandemic, “The Legislature froze the step increases during the pandemic, meaning no teacher moved up the scale for that year of work,” Childers said. “The Legislature recently voted to unfreeze the salary step increases, so teachers who worked for a full year will receive that step increase in a lump sum.” Childers said the state doesn’t pay “step increases” beyond a teacher’s 23rd work year. However, she said, the county school board has approved a plan “to give teachers beyond year 23 the same salary scale increases as the state is providing for teachers 23 years and less.” Aside from teachers, Childers said, the county school district’s other full-time employees are also paid on salary scales; those were also frozen last year. Childers said the school board voted to give those employees who worked a full year last year a step increase as well – “One step up in years of experience.”