Hays CISD sets sights on being destination district

After giving its employees raises, rolling out a technology initiative in its classrooms and passing a bond issue that will help fund several infrastructural upgrades, Hays CISD is aiming to become a go-to district for teachers and students in Central Texas.

The district has gained an average of 664 students a year since 2010, and another 669 are expected to be added to the rolls when the 2014–15 school year count is made official. Officials said the growth the Buda and Kyle area has seen will drive improvements for the district. Hays CISD has been the sixth fastest-growing district in the state during the past five years, Deputy Superintendent Carter Scherff said.

"It's an exciting time to be in Hays CISD because with growth comes opportunity," Superintendent Michael McKie said.

District officials said the development in the area the district serves will create opportunities it would not otherwise have.

"Growth fuels our progress, and our progress fuels growth," Hays CISD spokesman Tim Savoy said.

District of choice

McKie, who was hired in May 2013, has spoken about making improvements in Hays CISD so that it is among the top choices for teachers in the area. Elevating the quality of education its students receive also could make the district attractive for parents, he said.

The district's $59.1 million bond issue approved by voters in May will bankroll a few improvements, namely a districtwide upgrade of wireless Internet infrastructure and a sixth middle school.

The new campus, set to relieve overcrowding, is expected to be built in time for the 2016–17 school year. The Hays CISD board of trustees approved the school's location Aug. 28: between Dacy Lane and Tori Road, east of I-35. The site is in Kyle's unincorporated area.

A comprehensive enhancement of schools' wireless networks will help usher in the district's "drive your own device" initiative, which integrates students' mobile devices into instruction. Upgrades have already begun, officials said, and will be ongoing during the 2014–15 school year.

Although those projects address recent concerns, employee compensation has historically been subpar in comparison with the other districts in the Central Texas region, Scherff said.

"I think everyone realized that we were in a position that we didn't want to be," McKie said. "And we needed to develop a strategy to compensate our employees and position ourselves to where we could attract and retain one of the best workforces in Central Texas."

Pay increases

On May 27 the Hays CISD board of trustees decided unanimously to increase annual salaries for teachers, nurses and librarians by an average of 3.9 percent for 2014–15.

Additionally, all other employees received raises equal to 1.5 percent of the midpoint in their salary range. For example, a mail courier who made $8.59 an hour with a midpoint of $10.62 in his or her pay range in 2013–14 will make $8.75 in 2014–15.

The district's total 2014–15 budget figure of $166.54 million is an increase of 8 percent from last year's due in large part to the pay changes Hays CISD made.

A salary survey of 15 area school districts conducted by the Texas Association of School Boards on Hays CISD's behalf sparked many of the adjustments, including alterations to the various employee pay scales, which dictates how one's salary graduates with the experience he or she attains.

The survey found that pay ranges in general at Hays CISD were too low and not competitive with the market. Inequities in the pay structures of campus administrators, bus drivers and Public Education Information Management Systems clerks had led to especially low pay for those positions, according to the study.

Teacher salaries, especially for those with 10 years of experience or less, were particularly low and led to high turnover, the study states. First-year teachers made $40,388 in 2013–14, the lowest compared to the 15 school districts the survey examined. San Marcos CISD paid entry-level teachers $42,000, and Austin ISD's first-year teachers made $43,286.

Cindy Clegg, director of human resources services at TASB, said the raises the district gave were not significant enough to make Hays CISD stand out among its regional competitors.

"That's not enough to make them more competitive," Clegg said. "They were about 5-percent below [the median of the 15 surveyed districts]. [The increases] would not be enough to close the gap and even get to the middle of the pack."

The salary adjustments were made based on the salary data TASB collected from the 2013–14 school year. Hays CISD averaged out the 15 districts' "steps"—incremental pay raises for every year of experience earned—so that each step in the district would fall on what Scherff calls the "trend line." The move puts the district "dead in the middle" of its competitors, he said.

"We can't be at the bottom and recruit people," he said. "Our community has a lot to offer for people who want to come here. But you have to have your salaries competitive."

2011 Legislature

Steve Thompson, president of the Hays CISD chapter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators and a teacher at Lehman High School, said that while compensation is just one factor teachers consider when choosing an employer, squaring pay with that of other districts in the area gives Hays CISD a leg up.

"I think it's a good thing," Thompson said. "I'm glad to see us getting more on par with other districts."

In 2009, Thompson sat on a compensation committee that laid out a three-year plan for the district to make compensation equitable with its neighbors. Employees of the district saw pay raises in the first year the plan was implemented. But the 2011 Legislature saw an unprecedented drop in state funding for public schools.

More than $5 billion was slashed from the state's education budget, and districts are still recuperating from the loss in funds. McKie and Scherff said Hays CISD's annual state funding is $8 million behind where it would be had the cuts not been made.

Most districts froze salaries in light of the budget cuts and have been playing catch-up ever since, Clegg said.

"We see a lot of districts trying to gain some ground," she said. "But there is not enough money to close the gap. The average pay increase [among school districts] has been about 3 percent. Three percent is just barely the cost of living [increase], so that is not going to be enough to make a dent in actual salary improvement."

For their part, Hays CISD administrators acknowledged more strides must be made to accomplish the district's compensation goals.

"We still have a long way to go," McKie said. "I think people realize there is a lot of work to do. We have taken one step in the right direction, but this is an area that we are going to have to focus on for many years ahead."

By JJ Velasquez

The Central Austin editor since 2016, JJ covers city government and other topics of community interest—when he's not editing the work of his prolific writers. He began his tenure at Community Impact Newspaper as the reporter for its San Marcos | Buda | Kyle edition covering local government and public education. The Laredo, Texas native is also a web developer whose mission is to make the internet a friendly place for finding objective and engaging news content.


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