Austin ISD wants to offer bigger raises next year to retain and attract staff
The Austin Independent School District is aiming to offer teachers as much as a 7% raise next school year — significantly higher than what it offered for the current year.
"From day one we wanted to be aggressive. We wanted to acknowledge that it is incredibly difficult for those serving our community to actually live in the community they serve,” Interim Superintendent Matias Segura said at a school board meeting Thursday. “So, we asked the team to be creative. We asked them to be aggressive."
Austin ISD officials presented three different compensation plans to the board. Chief Financial Officer Ed Ramos said the district wanted to get the word out about the proposals as people consider where they want to work during the next school year.
“We wanted to make sure that employees and the board of trustees had this information sooner than later, so that you could see where we were with our budget,” he said.
Trustees will ultimately decide which plan to approve. They’re expected to vote next month.
All three of the compensation plans could lead to a budget deficit for the district, but Ramos pointed out AISD will likely end the current year with a $7 million surplus. He said the district had a $31.6 million surplus at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.
“That’s important because it has positioned us as a district to really make an aggressive move, which was our hope all along with next year’s budget,” he said.
The first compensation proposal offers a 5% raise for counselors, as well as a 5% midpoint raise for teachers and librarians. A midpoint raise is based on the halfway point between the low and high end of the paygrade for a position. Take, for example, a position that has a minimum salary of $44,506 and a maximum of $60,214. The midpoint of that salary range is $52,360. That means a 5% midpoint raise for that position would be $2,618 (5% of $52,360).
The first plan also raises the minimum pay for classified staff to $17 per hour and increases it to $22 for bus drivers. That's expected to result in a $12 million deficit.
The second proposal ups the ante. Classified staff, such as custodial workers and bus drivers, would get a $2 bump to their hourly pay. It offers counselors a 6% raise and a 3% increase for administrative professionals. Teachers and librarians would get the better of either a 5% increase or being bumped up to the next step in the pay structure. AISD projects the second compensation package would create a $40.6 million deficit.
The third proposal, which officials are pushing for, takes it up another notch. All classified staff would get a $4 flat raise, meaning the minimum hourly wage for these positions would be $20. Teachers, librarians and counselors would get the better of a 7% raise or advancing to the next step in the pay scale.
The second and third proposals also increase the stipends for bilingual and special education positions, and expand who qualifies. Austin ISD Chief of Human Capital Brandi Hosack said it makes sense to make more people — such as librarians, counselors and speech language pathologists — eligible for the bilingual stipend.
“We should be compensating for a skillset," she said. "And, anyone that comes to our district that has a bilingual certification, or can show mastery on a different assessment, should be compensated for that."
In each of the three plans, some of the salary increases are based on the midpoint of the pay scale for that position.
Hosack told trustees the district and Education Austin, a union representing AISD employees, reached an agreement on the third plan. While it's illegal in Texas for teachers and other school staff to collectively bargain, they can do what’s known as an elective consultation with the district to negotiate.
Education Austin launched a campaign in March to get significant raises for Austin ISD employees. The group was pushing for a $12 raise for classified staff and a 12% increase in base pay for teachers and other certified employees.
Union members held a rally outside Austin ISD headquarters Thursday before the school board meeting to reiterate their demands for higher pay. Employees described a workload and wages that are unsustainable, especially with the rising cost of living in the Austin area.
Kelli Kirk, a school counselor who has worked at Austin ISD for 21 years, noted that her campus typically has a high retention rate, but since the pandemic there has been more turnover and the campus started the current school year without a full staff.
“It’s a huge concern — retention and recruitment of teachers. It impacts the kids on a daily basis and us as coworkers,” she said.
“It’s a huge concern — retention and recruitment of teachers. It impacts the kids on a daily basis and us as coworkers."Kelli Kirk, Austin ISD school counselor
Kirk and other Education Austin members said another challenge is that salaries often do not reflect their years of experience. A recent report from the National Education Association found that pay for more experienced teachers in Texas significantly lags behind pay for teachers in other states.
Following the board meeting, Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said he is proud of the agreement reached with Austin ISD, especially the raise for certified employees.
"Every employee in public education is underpaid," he told KUT. "But the most vulnerable are hourly employees."
Zarifis said his group prioritized increases for certified employees. The $4 per hour raise the district has proposed for them amounts to a 25% increase in the base pay, which is currently $16.
He said that while Texas is a right to work state, Education Austin shows that unions can still accomplish a lot here.
"We continue to show up and show that labor does exist in Texas and that the unions are strong," he said.
Zarifis also praised the school board and AISD administration for their willingness to work with the union and listen to employees. He pointed out that Education Austin worked hard last year to get former teachers elected as trustees.
"That puts us in a really good position to have a district that understands public education," he said.
'Room to grow'
Austin ISD estimates the compensation plan it has agreed to with Education Austin, pending board approval, could result in a $54 million budget deficit. But, Ramos said the district has strategies to reduce that amount by nearly $33 million. One of the strategies is increasing student enrollment and attendance rates. Districts in Texas lose state funding when students don't show up to school. Ramos said AISD's average daily attendance rate is currently 91%.
“Historically, before the pandemic, we were at 94-95% so we’ve got some room to grow,” he said. “But the estimate there is we could potentially create $1.5 million [in] additional state revenue.”
Ramos said Austin ISD is also looking at ways to cut spending, such as staffing reductions through attrition, as well as evaluating contract and software costs.
The raises AISD is hoping to offer in the next budget are similar to what many other Central Texas school districts offered for the current school year. Eanes, Manor and Del Valle ISDs, for example, offered increases ranging from 5% to 7%. In contrast, Austin ISD provided a 2% midpoint raise for teachers and librarians, as well as a $1,000 base pay increase, for the 2022-2023 school year.
School districts are working on their budgets for next year as the Texas Legislature considers measures that could increase teacher pay and state funding for public education.
But the proposed increases do not come close to keeping up with inflation.