Utah district gives teachers a ‘COVID bonus’ for working during the pandemic

(Photo courtesy of Granite School District) Pictured is Maddison Steenblik, a new teacher at West Lake Junior High. Granite School District is giving all of its teachers and school employees a bonus.

Teachers and administrators in Granite School District will get a “COVID bonus” this month for their work to educate students during the pandemic.

The district’s board of education approved the one-time bonuses this week, calling them a thank you gift after “the craziest quarter of your career.” All contract educators will receive a 1% bonus. And hourly employees will get $100.

“You are working so hard under difficult circumstances,” said Granite school board President Karyn Winder in a statement. “We know and understand that this is not easy.”

The bonuses come after several teachers across the state have said the extra requirements this year have led to extreme burnout and exhaustion. Some say returning to school has been three times as much work, with balancing students learning in person, online and in quarantine.

Hundreds of teachers rallied against Granite this summer, saying the district’s plans to reopen almost entirely in person put them at risk. Before school started, 32 there quit and 12 retired.

One teacher in neighboring Canyons School District was hospitalized after testing positive for the virus.

The bonuses are, at least in part, an effort to improve the relationship with teachers moving forward.

“We hope that this bonus will convey our sincere and deep appreciation for your ongoing efforts,” Winder added.

The extra pay will come in employees' Oct. 30 paycheck, in addition to the 5% salary increase that teachers in Granite negotiated this summer. The district is paying for the bonuses out of reserve funds.

In a video recording, Winder said the district also will be using its reserves to avoid a layoff. After preliminary student headcounts this fall, Granite saw a decline in enrollment by a few hundred kids. With that, it had a surplus of 17 teachers.

Winder noted that the district will use its extra funding to keep all members of its staff employed.

Overall, since school began in late August, the district has seen 296 cases of the coronavirus among its students and employees. That’s the fourth highest of any district in the state. Alpine School District, the largest in Utah, has seen 689, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Winder said school staff have helped to keep the numbers “relatively low” by enforcing mask wearing and social distancing. The district has also spent $4 million, she added, on safety equipment, cleaning supplies and air filters.

She noted that was “worth every dollar. … It is clear that the preparation and efforts that have and continue to be made are working."