Austin ISD School Board Approves Raises For Teachers, Hiring Of New Equity Officer

Jun 17, 2019

The Austin Independent School District's Board of Trustees voted Monday to approve a $1.6 billion budget, which includes across-the-board raises for school employees.

The board also voted to hire Stephanie Hawley as AISD's first chief equity officer and in favor of a new dress code.

Before the budget vote, Ken Zarifisthe head of the AISD union Education Austin, read an email from a teacher about how a raise would impact her life.

"This will be my 20th year in the classroom and it was to be a make-or-break year for me financially," he read. "I had drawn my line in the sand, if a substantial raise didn't go through I would have to leave teaching after the '19-'20 school year."

Another teacher, who had previously testified about driving Lyft in her free time, also thanked board members for the raises. 

"This is a bold budget," Zarifis said. "This took a lot of hard work, and we're really proud of the people who stood up to make sure this happened."

Here's a look at what the board passed.

Budget

Teachers with more than five years of experience will get a 7% raise; all other AISD employees will get a 6% raise. Bilingual teachers will get a $1,000 increase in a yearly stipend and special education teachers will see a $500 increase in their stipend. The board said the school finance law signed last week by the governor allowed the district to increase salaries

The new school finance law also reduces the amount of property tax dollars AISD must give the state to distribute to districts that are considered "property poor," a requirement known as recapture. AISD's recapture payment is estimated to be around $612 million for the next school year, about $182 million less than it would have been.

Homeowners will also notice a difference in their tax bills. AISD says the owner of a median-valued $340,000 home with a homestead exemption will save about $240 on taxes next year.

Equity Officer

The board unanimously approved the hire of Stephanie Hawley as the district's first equity officer. This new administrative position is intended to help make schools more equitable and ensure low-income students and students of color do well academically.

In particular, that includes addressing the gap in test scores between students of color and their white and Asian peers. Hawley will also be tasked with looking at staffing, budget, academic programs and how the district communicates and includes all families. 

The board says her work will help inform the district's process to close, consolidate and change schools.

Although the board voted unanimously to hire Hawley, a few board members expressed concern about how much impact one person can have on equity in AISD. Trustee Yasmin Wagner said she is worried that without a staff, Hawley won't be able to address the problems the board wants her to address. 

Jayme Mathias said Hawley should lead the effort, but the board, district and city need to step up as well.

"We all acknowledge we are still on the hook for this," Mathias said. "But at the same time, let’s see how it is; together with the help of this person, we might be able to address the persistent inequities in racism and segregation that we still struggle to shake."

Hawley will start Aug. 1. The board is expected to look at possible scenarios for school closings and consolidations later that month. 

Dress Code

The board also voted to update the district's dress code for the first time since 2007. AISD said the goal of the update was to make sure students aren't disciplined for clothing choices based on gender, gender identity, racial identity, religion, sexual orientation or body type. 

Starting next school year, students will need to make sure their chests, stomachs and bottoms are fully covered. The new rules allow students to wear hats, hoodies and tank tops, including those with thin spaghetti straps. Clothes cannot have words or images that promote violence, drugs or alcohol, or hate speech and profanity.