In the auditorium at Coggin Intermediate School Friday morning, Brownwood school Assistant Superintendent Dr. Hector Martinez wished  employees a “happy Thanksgiving.”

The district took a Lion-sized step to make that a reality.

Martinez, accompanied by school board president Michael Cloy, announced at 7:30 a.m. that all school district employees are receiving $500 checks from the district as a “retention incentive.” Martinez’s announcement prompted school employees to jump to their feet, cheering and clapping.

On other campuses around the district,  district administrators, accompanied by other school board members, made the same announcement, ending what had been a well-kept secret and plenty of speculation among school employees. They'd been asked to report to their campuses at 7:30 a.m. for an unspecified announcement.

“On behalf of the Brownwood ISD and board of trustees, it is a privilege today to give you something a little special to start the Thanksgiving holiday,” Martinez said. “BISD continues to look for ways to support all staff and show our appreciation.

“With that being said, it is a small token today. Every BISD employee is being given a $500 retention incentive. Happy Thanksgiving, and thank your for all that you do and for being part of the Brownwood Lions family, and we are the district of choice.”

Martinez told school employees he had their checks and would be delivering them to their classrooms and work station.

School employees thronged Martinez and Cloy, thanking them for the unexpected bounty and offering hugs and handshakes.

“A great school district cannot function without great employees,” Superintendent Dr. Joe Young said via email. “All members of the team are vital. Maintenance, custodial, food service, teachers, paraprofessionals, secretaries and administrators are all vital to making our district great for kids.

“This incentive allows us to show our appreciation at this critical time of year and hopefully continues to show them we are proud they have chosen BISD as their employer."

 The district has 505 employees, and the total cost to the district, counting taxes covered by the district, was $387,000, Young said. The money was designated out of fund balance.

When asked how the district had managed to keep the secret, Young said, “We kept the circle small. Outside the board, only five people in the district knew. We worked on the logistics after hours and on weekends when everyone had left.”

In a press release from the district, Heather Nix, a digital media specialist and photography teacher at Brownwood High School, said employees had "heard everything" and noted the various theories and speculation spiraling around the campus.

Neredia Ceniceros, who works in the district as a behavioral specialist, received the message at district’s Central Office.

“It’s a real blessing to work for a district that cares so much for their employees,” Ceniceros said in the district’s press release. “Having a senior this year, this will be great to help as we do college campus tours and for other college expenses.”

School board member Eric Evans, who attended the Brownwood Middle School presentation, said, “It’s something that we have wanted to do for a long time and Dr. Young made it happen.

“We wanted to make it a surprise. Every employee is getting a lump check for $500.” The district also took into consideration the amount needed for taxes and worked it out so each employee would get to take home the complete $500.

“Our employees make the difference every day,” Young said. “We are thankful they chose us.”