School System in Meltdown Approves $1,000 Employee Bonuses

Fredericksburg City Hall. Photo credit: Adam Fagen, Flickr

by James A. Bacon

Two months ago, citing a 71% rate of chronic absenteeism in Fredericksburg public schools, Bacon’s Rebellion columnist Jim Sherlock called for the resignation of the city’s superintendent, Marci Catlett. Looks as though she’ll be getting a bonus instead.

The Fredericksburg School Board approved Monday drawing from federal COVID-relief funds to pay $1,000 bonuses for full-time employees and $500 for part-time employees, according to The Free Lance-Star.  

The newspaper did not report a justification given for the bonuses.

Could it have been a reward for a job well done in educating Fredericksburg school children through the COVID pandemic? Let’s check the numbers.

Fredericksburg students passed their Standards of Learning (SOL) reading tests at a 63.4% rate in 2018-19 before the pandemic, dropped 8.6 percentage points during the pandemic in 2020-21, and then, while other Virginia school districts were rebounding, slipped another 0.26 percentage points last year for a cumulative, three-year decline of 8.8 percentage points. That performance compares to a state fall-off of 4.4 percentage points over the same period.

The SOL pass rate for math was 61.0% pre-pandemic, an astonishingly low 26.6% during the pandemic, and 40.2% post-pandemic — a decline of 20.9 percentage points. That compares to a 15.7 percentage-point loss statewide.

Governor Glenn Youngkin has asked school districts to apply their COVID-relief funds toward hiring tutors to help at-risk students master their reading skills.

A May article in The Free Lance-Star said that Fredericksburg public schools would receive $10.8 million in COVID relief. Thousand-dollar bonuses for the city’s 440 school employees would consume $440,000 of the relief funds, seemingly leaving plenty of money to hire reading tutors. I could find no indication that the School Board has decided what to do with the rest of the funds.

Hopefully, the School Board will follow Youngkin’s lead and prioritize the hiring of reading tutors — although the data suggest students are in greater need of math tutoring. If school board members have any sense, they’ll use the money to address the chronic absenteeism problem, too.

Remember: a mind is a terrible thing to waste.