Jacksonville/North Pulaski school board unanimously backs employee bonus plan

Members of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School Board look at the drop-off area outside the then-new Jacksonville Elementary School during a tour of the building in this Dec. 14, 2021 file photo. Students started in the new building in January 2022. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)
Members of the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School Board look at the drop-off area outside the then-new Jacksonville Elementary School during a tour of the building in this Dec. 14, 2021 file photo. Students started in the new building in January 2022. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Stephen Swofford)

Employees in the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District can go into this year's state-required student testing season knowing that there will be financial bonuses for them if certain goals are achieved.

The district's School Board voted 6-0 Monday night for an employee bonus plan that could result in as much as $2,500 a year to high school employees and $1,500 to employees at the elementary and middle schools.

Superintendent Jeremy Owoh told the board that the incentive plan -- affecting both state-licensed teachers and support or classified employees -- was prompted by Act 237 of 2023, also known as the multi-part, 145-page LEARNS Act that was championed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The board approved the plan without discussion. The district's personnel policies committees for licensed and support staff had previously approved the plans, Owoh said.

The Jacksonville Fiscal Year '25 staff performance bonus plan is to be based on graduation rates and on results of the new Arkansas Teaching and Learning Assessment System or ATLAS tests in math, English/language arts and science in grades three through eight. Schools statewide will give the online, adaptive tests between April 15 and May 24.

The test results, however, won't be released until well into the coming 2024-25 school year. That is because work groups of educators will have to analyze the raw test results and set levels of what results are and are not satisfactory achievement. That will occur over this summer and into the fall.

The ATLAS Tests are replacing the ACT Aspire exams that were previously required by the state and federal governments to hold schools accountable for student achievement.

The Jacksonville bonus plan is made up of the following goals and rewards:

High school graduation rate -- The goal is a four-year graduation rate of 95% of students. If the goal is achieved, all licensed and classified staff members at the school will receive a $1,000 bonus.

School level achievement for each state-graded "C" "D," or "F" school -- The goal is for a school with state-applied grades of C, D or F to raise its grade by one letter. If achieved, all staff members at the achieving school will receive a one-time $1,000 bonus. School personnel will receive an additional bonus of the same amount if the rating increases by at least one letter grade each year thereafter.

School level student achievement -- The goal is to increase by 5% the number of students at a school who test at the "Ready" or "Exceeding" grade level designations for reading and/or math. If that is achieved, then all staff members at the achieving school will receive a one-time $500 bonus. School personnel will receive an additional bonus of the same amount if the School Index Rating increases 5% or more, each year thereafter.

The bonus plan also includes provisions for district administrators and department directors to receive bonuses if the goals are met.

That includes $500 to administrators and department leaders if the high school graduation goal is met, $500 per district leaders for each campus that raises its letter grade, and $250 for leaders for each campus that increases by 5% the number of students scoring at ready and exceeding-ready levels on the ATLAS.

The LEARNS Act calls for each local school board to establish, as part of a public school superintendent's contract of employment, written performance targets for public schools at both the school level and the district level that include student achievement and high school graduation.

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