BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Bay District School Board members took action to address seven struggling schools throughout Bay County. 

Lucille Moore, M. Cherry St., Parker, and Waller Elementary Schools received a ‘D’ for the first time from the Florida Department of Education.

Rutherford Middle and High School also received a ‘D’. 

Callaway and Cedar Grove Elementary Schools received an ‘F’ or ‘D’ grade for the second year.

“We need to put some money where the resources are needed,” a Bay County resident said.

School board members agreed.

“They’re honestly a higher priority,” Chairman Steve Moss said.

Board members voted to give those schools access to a $5 million pool of money. Their principals can use it to pay additional bonuses to qualified teachers. 

The five ‘D’ grade schools can pay those teachers $10,000 bonuses. Each school has dozens of positions it’s looking to fill. They’re also hoping to attract “master teachers” who have taught for decades, to mentor younger, inexperienced teachers.

“These funds will help not only retain our fabulous teachers that we have at our school, but we all have classrooms that need additional teachers,” Callaway Elementary School Principal Michelle Good said.

Board member Jerry Register felt it was best to focus only on the district’s two lowest-rated schools, raising salaries for all the employees at Callaway and Cedar Grover Elementary School.

“I’m not surprised at your desire to treat all employees the same,” Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt said.

But board members rejected the proposal by a 4-1 vote.

“It was unfair to not help out those other schools because they’re facing the exact same issues as those other two,” Moss said.

Moss said he’s aware some parents will be worried about their children’s good teachers being lured away to one of the seven schools in need of help.

“The hope is that if some of those teachers leave a successful school to go to one of the struggling schools, that that school they’re leaving has a strong enough culture and administration and parental support and all those other things to fill in that gap a lot easier than one of those struggling schools for sure,” Moss said.

Some residents pointed out the seven schools are in eastern Bay County and should have received extra funding for years.

“All the money is going across the bridge,” one Bay County resident said.

Husfelt said the school district has spent almost $25 million on Rutherford, second only to the $40 million spent on Bay High School.

Despite the funding, Rutherford is the only high school with a ‘D’ grade. 

“Our hope is that we get more qualified teachers that have proven themselves already in the classroom and incentivize them to go to these struggling schools,” Moss said. “We’ve never necessarily done this in the past paying teachers more for taking on more responsibility.”

All school board members acknowledge this is a one-year experiment. But if it’s successful they will renew it in 2024. Board members said they hope to fill as many roles as possible but don’t expect to fill every position.