The Madison Metropolitan School District has proposed new bonuses for staff members.
The bonuses, including $1,000 for all eligible staff who were actively employed between Jan. 1 and June 10, are on the School Board’s Monday night agenda. If approved, they would be paid out this summer.
“These bonuses show our appreciation for the hard work and dedication by our valued staff during the school year and during summer school,” administrators wrote in a memo to board members.
Another bonus the board is considering would designate $500 for all Summer Semester and Summer Arts Academy staff who miss no more than two of the 30 days of those programs.
A third bonus would expand the pool of employees who are eligible for monthly bonuses approved earlier this school year.
According to an email from district spokesperson Tim LeMonds, the $1,000 bonuses will cost approximately $4 million. He did not provide an estimate for the other bonuses.
Cost of living
The proposal comes at the same meeting where the board will approve a preliminary budget for the 2022-23 school year, including an increase to base wages that remains below what Madison Teachers Inc. has asked for on behalf of staff. The latest proposal includes a 3% base wage increase, above the 2% increase included in the initial April draft but below the 4.7% cost-of-living level set by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
That contrast caused one board member to publicly question the bonuses on social media Monday. Nicki Vander Meulen wrote in a Facebook post that “all teachers and all staff deserve a full cost-of-living increase not a bonus.” She added that she found the proposal “insulting” and that “if the District can pay bonuses,” it can pay for a cost-of-living increase.
MTI communications specialist Michelle Michalak wrote in an email to the Cap Times that the union had “numerous questions” about the proposal that they sent to board members Monday morning “in hopes they will answer them at tonight’s meeting.”
Those questions included why the cost is going toward bonuses rather than a base wage increase.
“Why aren’t we committing to the COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment) instead of bonuses which are taxed to the maximum allowed ... AND do not contribute towards employees’ retirement?” MTI president Michael Jones wrote to board members.
The email further requested clarification on the language of who would be eligible in the bonus proposal, where the funding for the Summer Semester bonuses is coming from and whether this type of bonus practice is common.
“Is there a logic in alienating staff with a refusal to raise base wages while providing bonuses after the fact?” Jones wrote. “Are there other employers or districts that use this strategy to intentionally keep wages lower while supplementing those wages with highly-taxed bonuses as a means to placate employee dissatisfaction? Does the district have data to show this is a successful employee retention strategy?”
District officials have stressed the difficulty of this year’s budget despite the influx of federal COVID-19 relief funds. That one-time money, they’ve said, should not be used on ongoing operating costs like salaries, as it creates a deficit in the future.
The bonuses, on the other hand, are one-time funds and do not set up an ongoing cost.