Members of the district’s administration alongside the Texas Association of School Boards recommended a 2% salary increase in an April 16 presentation. The increase, which also included salary adjustments for positions that were under market value, would have totaled approximately $8.7 million, or a 2.7% budget impact, according to staff’s presentation.
“The goal of these pay increases is to make sure you are keeping your pay as competitive as possible,” said Erin Kolecki, compensation and human resources consultant for the Texas Association of School Boards. “We agree that the 2% model does accomplish that.”
Instead of adopting the proposal recommended by district administration and the state board, a slim majority of school board members opted to postpone the vote, citing fears of the coronavirus’ impact on finances and funding.
“In the middle of so much uncertainty surrounding this virus and our economy, the only thing I’m certain of is that our resources have decreased, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” Trustee Cory Vessa said before voting to postpone a decision on salary increases.
Vessa initially requested a six-week extension for the gathering of additional data, until the board’s next regularly-scheduled meeting on May 28. Her motion was eventually amended to delay a decision on salaries until May 7, when RRISD will hold a special board meeting.
Trustee Chad Chadwell also voted for a postponement of the vote, saying he would prefer to first determine whether other area school districts would approve salary increases.
“The coronavirus is changing everything we had expected even two months ago,” Chadwell said. “My preference is we wait and see what is going on, get a little better perspective about what neighboring districts might do.”
Trustee Mason Moses took a differing stance, stating he would prefer RRISD be a leader in making salary decisions rather than a follower.
“As leaders of our community, our school district, it is our responsibility to provide some certainty,” Moses said. “Especially in these times, especially when it impacts kids. I think a 2% salary increase provides our staff some certainty, some comfort as we navigate these uncharted waters.”
Board president Amy Weir voted in favor of postponing the decision, saying she wanted to hear Gov. Greg Abbott’s April 17 press conference in which he is expected to detail a plan for reopening the economy.
“I’m truly, truly just struggling with having this conversation tonight,” Weir said. “I don’t feel like I’m at a place where I can add to our budget. I’m treating this like I would my home finances.”
Trustee Steve Math, who ultimately voted to postpone the decision about salary increases, expressed conflicted views throughout the three-hour discussion.
“I’m a very, very strong believer that you have to pay your employees at or above market value,” Math said. “That is a core belief of mine. Quite frankly, 2% is not an unreasonable ask, but the big elephant in the room is that we’re in the middle of this tremendous economic uncertainty and pandemic. I don’t know how it looks if we have record-high unemployment and we’re recommending an increase.”
Trustee Nikki Gonzales, who voted against a postponement, expressed frustration at delaying the decision.
“What are we waiting for?” she asked fellow board members. “I don’t understand waiting a few more weeks. There won’t be any new data. Nothing is going to change. Why can’t we be leaders and not followers?”
Superintendent Steve Flores acknowledge the troublesome timing of the salary increase request.
“It’s tough to give a budget presentation in these uncertain times,” Flores said. “We understand that some board members and others have concerns, given the unknown impact the global pandemic will have on our economy. But I want to remind our community that our funding for next year is not affected at this time by the current situation. We are in solid standing.”
While he said he supported the 2% raise for teachers and staff, Flores said he believed that to be a conservative increase and wished it could be even higher.
“I wish it could be more. It needs to be more for us to remain competitive, but we feel it is appropriate at this time,” Flores said. “This is not a move that will break Round Rock [ISD] for the future or the next biennium. But what we cannot afford to do is undermine our workforce and lose talent to neighboring districts.”
Kenneth Adix, RRISD chief financial officer, said that last year the board of trustees approved the biggest pay raise in district history. The salary bump allowed RRISD to move from “dead last” to fifth out of 11 Central Texas school districts, Adix said.
While salary adjustments have made the district more competitive locally, RRISD still fails to compete with peer districts in Dallas and Houston, Adix said.
The proposal that the board failed to vote on April 16 would have increased teachers’ starting salary to $50,000 and adjusted years 2-6 to alleviate compression.
Additional budget updates are expected in May and June, and the board is expected to formally adopt the 2020-21 budget June 18. Tax rate adoption is anticipated Sept. 17.
“For me, it is not about being competitive with other districts,” Gonzales said. “It is about treating our teachers as professionals. Teachers leave the profession of education every day because they cannot make ends meet. Our students and our teachers deserve better.”