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Union demands significant pay raises for Austin ISD employees

A person at a podium with people behind her in front of a building that says Texas AFL-CIO
Patricia Lim
Denise Hankins and other union members introduce the "We Know Our Worth" campaign to increase salaries for Austin ISD staff, outside the Texas AFL-CIO office on Monday.

A union representing Austin ISD employees is calling for a $12 per hour raise in the next budget for staff in classified positions and a 12% increase in the base pay of all certified employees, such as teachers and counselors.

“It is the bus drivers, the custodians, the teachers, the TAs — it is these people that carried this district through this pandemic and we know our worth because of it,” Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, said Monday at the launch of the union's “We Know Our Worth!” campaign outside the Texas AFL-CIO office. “We know how valuable we are because this district does not exist without the workers every single day.”

Denise Hankins, who has worked for the district for about 17 years, said there is a disconnect between Austin ISD leadership and the staff working in schools.

“They're not in the trenches with what needs to be done on a daily basis," she said, "so therefore they're paying the position and not the person when actually the person needs to get paid what they're worth."

Austin ISD officials have said repeatedly they want to become the highest paying district in Central Texas within the next few years. But Traci Dunlap, a kindergarten teacher at Maplewood Elementary, said the district has a long way to go.

“To accomplish this goal, we need a significant pay raise. The small raises we’ve received over the past several years just won’t cut it,” she said.

The budget for the 2022-2023 school year included a $1,000 base pay increase for teachers, as well as a 2% raise based on the midpoint of the position's pay scale.

A person wearing a red "Education Austin" T-shirt gestures while speaking at a microphone
Patricia Lim
Ken Zarifis, the president of Education Austin, warns Austin ISD could see an exodus of staff if it doesn't increase pay significantly.

Dunlap said people are leaving education because the low pay and heavy workload is unsustainable, especially as the cost of living in Austin continues to rise. A recent survey the district conducted found that more than 70% of employees are spending over 30% of their income on housing costs.

“I don’t want to leave Austin, but what are my choices?" Dunlap said. "Most teachers I know work a second job, but one job should be enough."

Austin ISD said in a statement to KUT that it shares Education Austin’s “sense of urgency around compensation, reasonable workloads and recruitment.”

The district added that it is proposing raises for all full-time, benefits-eligible staff. Officials have said teachers will, at minimum, get a 5% increase from the midpoint. AISD also plans to offer $7,000 per year stipends for bilingual classroom teachers and $5,000 per year stipends to special education classroom teachers.

“We are hopeful that the legislature will take action that would allow us to offer even more aggressive pay increases,” the district’s statement said.

Zarifis said he appreciates that Austin ISD has put forth a percentage at this point in the budgeting process, but a 5% midpoint raise for teachers is not enough.

“The district’s got to do more,” he said. “However the district does more – because they dig a little deeper in their own reserves or they get something [from the Legislature] – it’s neither here nor there. This district has to do more.”

Austin ISD estimates the raises Education Austin is requesting would amount to a $100 million deficit for the district, based on current employees and funding, if lawmakers don't increase state funding for public education. The state has a historic $33 billion budget surplus.

Austin-area Democrats in the Texas House have filed a number of bills to increase state funding for public education this session. State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) has filed House Bill 882, which has a companion bill in the Senate, that would raise per-student funding based on inflation. State Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) has a bill that seeks to raise teacher salaries by $15,000 and increase other school employee pay by 25%. State Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) is the author of HB 31, a bipartisan bill that would fund schools based on enrollment, rather than attendance.

Education Austin’s call to action is not just limited to salaries, though. The union wants the district to fill vacancies, reduce required testing for students, and re-evaluate the elementary school essential areas redesign that was adopted last year. The group is also pushing for reasonable workloads and safeguards on job responsibilities to limit the number of additional duties employees are asked to take on.

It’s about taking our workload from insurmountable to manageable,” said Rachel Preston, a French teacher at Bowie High School.

Zarifis said he hopes Austin ISD does not see the exodus of staff it had last year when just over 2,100 people resigned.

“But if we don’t see pay increase significantly, I fear that we will,” he said.

AISD is currently planning its budget for the next school year and holding public events to get input on what officials should prioritize.

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Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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