Before the Austin ISD board of trustees reviewed the school district’s preliminary 2015-16 school year budget during its April 27 meeting, AISD staff and parents urged the board to implement a 5 percent pay raise for district employees.
Members of AISD employees union Education Austin rallied outside the Carruth Administration Center board room on Sixth Street before the meeting, cheering in support of the ongoing “Give Me 5” campaign.
AISD teachers, staff speak out
During public comment, 64-year-old James Maxfield, a district employee, said if he were younger he would move to an outlying district where salaries are higher and the cost of living is lower.
“The bottom line is that our net pay never goes up, and in some cases it actually goes down,” he said. “I have had to teach summer school for the last 15 years just to keep from going further in debt.”
Fellow AISD staffers shared stories about working part-time jobs and having to apply for affordable housing.
Karen Barnes, an executive board member of Education Austin, said she has worked in AISD transportation for more than 20 years and watched as costs of housing, food and electricity have continued to rise.
“Comparing our wages to other districts is not what we need,” she said.
Barnes said AISD should approve a 5 percent pay raise across the board for employees including classified staff, such as secretaries, custodians and bus drivers.
“Most classified employees barely make it paycheck to paycheck, and they really struggle when they put their families on the district health insurance,” she said.
Jim Fulbright, another executive board member for Education Austin, said he lives a modest life. As he is approaching his retirement, he is not only not breaking even, but he does not have the means to save money for his retirement, he said.
“Five percent won’t make us rich; 5 percent won’t break even; 5 percent won’t be what I used to make seven years ago,” Fulbright told the board. “I know you have the will, I believe you have the will. … We have got to find the way.”
AISD is facing a deficit of about $30 million, and trustees have said the board would have to make tough decisions about revenue generation and programming if it wants to increase staff compensation.
The district’s current preliminary 2015-16 budget includes a 1.5 percent salary increase for regular full-time and part-time employees. AISD also plans to provide an additional 1.5 percent increase for teachers, librarians and counselors who have served AISD for five years or longer, according to board documents. Those compensation plans could be adjusted if additional revenue becomes available as a result of the legislative session, but it is too early to speculate, AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley said.
The preliminary budget assumes there will be no change to school finance structure or revenue AISD will receive from the state as part of the legislative session, Conley said.
At a school finance briefing for local media April 30, the district emphasized it is the state’s single largest payer of recapture, also known as "Robin Hood." Through recapture, so-called property-rich districts such as AISD are required by law to send money to the state to be redistributed among districts that are deemed property-poor.
However, Conley said during the briefing that staff is “hopeful” that a 5 percent pay raise is feasible.
In previous discussions trustee Robert Schneider has advocated for giving 5 percent raises to employees.
Board members talked about possible options April 27 during discussions about the budget and the 2015-20 strategic plan.
Trustee Paul Saldaña mentioned the district has surplus properties and assets it could sell.
“We have an opportunity here, I think, to be leaders in Texas and across the U.S. as far as how much we value and pay our employees across the board,” Saldaña said.
The board did not vote on 5 percent raises during its April 27 meeting.
During the meeting the district also acknowledged its National Board Certified teachers and approved an agreement with Education Austin to provide stipends for teachers with the certification in the 2015-16 school year.