In response the COVID-19 crisis, Guilford County Schools will increase hourly pay for cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other essential hourly workers beginning Wednesday.
Although North Carolina’s public schools have been closed since March 13, cafeteria workers and bus drivers across the state have played critical roles in the delivery of meals to needy students and their families.
The pay increase — time and a half for hours worked — applies to hourly employees who have been deemed mandatory by supervisors and are required to report to work either to provide childcare for hospital workers or to prepare and deliver student meals.
“Without our dedicated school nutrition and transportation staff who are preparing and distributing meals, Guilford County would be facing the potential of massive child hunger,” GCS Superintendent Sharon Contreras said in a statement. “Additionally, without the commitment of our after-school staff, teacher assistants and custodial support, some hospital workers would not have childcare and would be unable to report for duty.”
The pay increase is valid April 1-30, but may be extended, depending on the pandemic’s impact in Guilford County. The state’s schools will not reopen before May 18.
For the 2019-2020 school year, more than 65% of GCS students qualified for free- or reduced-price meals.
Last Tuesday, GCS served slightly fewer than 1,000 meals. Eight days later, that number jumped to more than 29,000 emergency meals per day. The district has provided more than 157,000 meals to children since Gov. Roy Cooper announced schools were closing, effective March 16.
Contreras plans to ask the General Assembly and Gov. Cooper to increase the pay of public-school employees providing essential services during the coronavirus pandemic.
She and the GCS school board will meet virtually Tuesday with members of the local NCGA delegation to discuss the pay increase.
“We respectfully ask the General Assembly to act swiftly to increase the pay of these critical hourly employees,” Contreras said. “In the meantime, however, GCS will take action immediately to prevent child hunger and the lack of childcare for frontline healthcare workers from making the pandemic even worse.”
GCS officials also announced plans to reduce the number of non-mandatory personnel working on-site this week to help slow the spread of the virus.
The State Board of Education adopted new rules Friday to allow non-mandatory employees and those who report for reduced hours, who are unable to work from home, to take paid State Emergency Leave for the balance of the hours they were not assigned on-site or remote duties.