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School workers advocate for expanded bonus payment guidelines

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) — A paraeducator and district superintendent are among many school employees advocating for the state to expand those eligible for bonuses.

Currently, $1,000 bonuses are given to teachers rather than to all school employees. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said the payments were intended to thank teachers who have worked during the pandemic and as a retention tool in his state of the state address.

Staff excluded from the bonus like school nurses, bus drivers and paraeducators hoped they would also become eligible for payments after the Iowa Department of Education expanded eligibility requirements on Tuesday .

Originally, only teachers teaching 100% in person were eligible. Today, any teacher who has taught at least 1 in-person class is eligible for payment.

Kim Baldwin, who is a paraeducator for the Linn-Mar Community School District, said she was disappointed when she learned she would not receive a bonus. She said it’s frustrating to feel that your work is not valued.

“It makes us feel like we’re not important, that we didn’t care, and that teachers are the only ones who are important,” Baldwin said. “And it’s no longer a one-house school when teachers do everything.”

She said her husband is a school caretaker and would also not receive money to clean schools during the pandemic to keep them safe and open.

Heather Doe, who is a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education, said in a written statement that the department knows many people are providing critical support and services to students. But, she said, eligibility requirements were based on the amount of funding available to cover payments.

“Parameters were set based on the finite amount of federal and state funding available to cover retention payments,” she wrote. “The role of the Department of Education is to work with our district and school partners to distribute funds to eligible teachers as quickly as possible.”

The bounties came from the federal government under a program called the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund, also known as the ESSER Fund. The program grew out of the American Rescue Plan Act, which was the last federal COVID-19 relief program.

Doe pointed out that some districts have used ESSER funds to pay ineligible staff members. Rob Busch, who is the superintendent of the Edgewood-Colesburg Community School District, said he has already earmarked those dollars for other projects to protect students from COVID-19 and future pandemics like a new HVAC system.

He said he would instead try to seek out possible bonuses for ineligible employees through his general fund.

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