Some DeKalb school officials received bonuses as high at $10K from CARES Act money

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Channel 2 Action News has learned that DeKalb school officials approved spending more than $100,000 in federal CARES Act money to pay bonuses as high as $10,000 to school administrators who took on an “exponential increase in responsibilities” during the pandemic.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher found out the school district has told two different stories about whether it had any guidelines about how workers qualified for the bonuses.

In a statement late Tuesday, the school district said there are such criteria.

That statement contradicts what the district told Channel 2 in response to an open record request last month.

The extra pay was generous -- an average of nearly $3,000 per person, with some employees getting as much as $5,000, $7,500 and even $10,000.

Critics worry the program is open to favoritism.

“This causes a concern, a grave concern for us, and it should be for all taxpayers,” said Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, which has about 1,000 members who work for DeKalb Schools.

A very similar reaction came from Joel Edwards, the founder of the good government group Restore DeKalb.

“The word will get around, and folks are going to be mad as hell,” Edwards said.

Using the Georgia Open Records Act, Belcher obtained the bonus numbers.

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DeKalb County Schools paid $114,250 to 36 employees who were concentrated in Human Resources. The average payment was $2,929, and three employees got two payments.

The bonuses ranged from a low of $500 to a high of $10,000. No one received total payments of more than $10,000.

What caught our attention was the district’s answer to one of our first questions. We asked for the “policy under which managers determine which employees (receive) supplements.”

A few days later, the district responded: “There is no policy that speaks to that; however, the practice is for the division leader to make the request and submit it for approval.”

Late Tuesday, the district reversed itself, writing, “There is a criteria and an application process for supplements.”

The statement from Interim Chief Human Resources Officer Dr. Michelle Jones adds: “Human Resources professionals assumed an exponential increase in responsibilities to process COVID-19-related issues...The (district)...recognized the dedication of many of its employees using federal dollars.”

Edwards believes the money could have been used more wisely -- and with a fairer outcome -- elsewhere in the district.

“I think that’s a shame, and what it does is lower the morale of the, of the school system,” Edwards said.

“A big flag must be raised, because what warrants one employee to get $500 in the same division and another employee to get as much $10,000?” Turner wondered in her interview with Belcher.

In her statement to Channel 2, Jones wrote: “The work had to get done. These workers unselfishly volunteered and sacrificed to do it; the federal funding was available and allowed for it. The supplements were not payouts for workers simply doing their job.”

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