Some educators say pay raises going to NEISD employees thanks to new state education funding still aren’t enough.
Meanwhile, North East Independent School District leaders stressed it’s best to be cautious in using the new funds, given the possibility that future state spending could shrink.
Kathleen Roark, a Roosevelt High School English teacher, wished the new compensation figures were greater than what was proposed and approved during a June 20 board meeting.
“To me, it seems North East has to stand out and step up now,” Roark said.
District 6 trustee Tony Jaso noted while staffers merit the hikes, NEISD must remain fiscally prudent.
“History has shown us that we can’t always treat money from Austin as something to be taken for granted,” he said. “We all face economic ‘winters’ and, as we learned after the financial crisis in 2009, budgets can be cut significantly.”
Adopted by the board June 20, the $568.8 million general-fund budget for the 2019-2020 academic year involves $349.8 million for instruction, representing 61.5 percent of daily operations.
House Bill 3, a $6.5 billion public school-finance measure passed by the Legislature, mandates Texas school systems boost salaries for certain personnel.
The legislation requires districts to reserve a $7.3-million minimum for teachers, nurses, librarians and counselors.
North East is spending $10.4 million in higher pay for those specific positions. As a whole, all eligible NEISD staffers are now up for a 3 percent jump, with additional raises for educators with more than five years of experience.
“We strongly believe that our employees deserve this salary increase and are happy that the board approved our recommendation, but we must also proceed cautiously because there is no guarantee from the state that this funding will be sustained over time,” Superintendent Sean Maika said in a news release.
However, some of the NEISD workers attending the monthly school board meeting said the infusion of state money had given NEISD a prime opportunity to quickly and significantly bump everyone’s pay.
Reagan High School physics teacher Mary Jo Bolster asked trustees to direct more of the state’s funds into salaries instead of benefits because “(pay) would have a better effect on our morale and help keep us more competitive with other districts.”
Roark also referenced San Antonio Independent School District which, thanks in part to HB 3, adopted a 3 percent pay raise despite recently closing a few institutions and contracting with independent organizations to run some campuses.
She suggested a total 7.5 percent hike in North East paychecks.
District administrators, however, recommended NEISD not expend all of the increase in raises this year because of uncertainty over long-term ramifications of HB 3, especially since many rules won’t be finalized until next spring.
Plus, before the 2021 legislative session, state leaders pledge to explore how best to ensure the new education funding and property-tax relief, together, are sustainable.
Lawmakers also say not everything has been worked out to fund prekindergarten and compulsory education programs, plus ensuring future pay hikes can be supported.
Maika said a speaker at the Texas Association of School Boards’ Summer Leadership Institute in San Antonio explained districts shouldn’t exhaust the new state money all at once, but wait “until this onion is peeled.”
NEISD is devoting $14.5 million total on pay increases for all employees this year highlighted by:
• Starting compensation for first-time teachers and librarians is $53,000, with a 3 percent hike for eligible teachers and librarians equaling $1,700.
• New-to-district teachers and librarians with 25-plus years of experience will receive $62,028 as a new maximum salary.
• Professional/administrative and classified pay-scale structures are being realigned with market median.
• Returning employees not earning a year of credit will get a scale adjustment increase of 1.5 percent based on the midpoint of the new 2019-2020 pay scales. Employee premiums for the district’s self-funded health benefits plan won’t rise.
HB 3 also requires a decrease in school property taxes. NEISD is dropping its maintenance and operations tax rate from $1.04 to 97 cents per $100 valuation.
District officials said most average homeowner tax bills would remain flat because of the $13,000 increase in appraised values. NEISD projects $569.3 million in general-fund revenue in 2019-2020.
Jaso said HB 3 was helpful with the latest funding, and some district taxpayers were getting marginal tax relief.
He also noted not every school district is receiving the same amount of money for pay raises.
“It goes without saying that we always wish we could provide for more because we believe that we have the best teachers and employees,” he said.
Elsewhere in the area, both Boerne and Judson school systems improved staffers’ compensation packages.