The Houston ISD board of education approved the district's $2 billion budget for 2020-21, which included partially restored raises for teachers and maintained a $3.5 million increase in police salaries, despite mounting outcry calling for cuts.

The budget also adds 70 wraparound specialists, support staff who help students navigate physical, mental, social and emotional needs.

Teachers and others on the step pay scale will receive a salary increase equivalent to 0.85% on average, according to board documents, along with a one-time retention bonus of 1.5%. Other staff will be eligible for a retention bonus of $500, adjusted based on their hourly work time. The district is also covering a $9.3 million increase in insurance costs.

The raises for police could make HISD's officers among the highest paid among neighboring districts, officials said. A study found that they were among the lowest paid, with an average pay of around $21 per hour. Raises will be allocated based on experience.

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the low pay made it difficult to fill positions and keep officers on the payroll. Because of the staff shortage, the department was spending over $3 million annually on overtime, a cost that was flagged by a state audit of district operations last year. The department has 188 officers out of 236 authorized positions total.

"Either we spend it in salaries or we continue to spend in overtime," Lathan said.

District security was under scrutiny after a shooting at Bellaire High School resulted in the death of a student. At the time, Lathan said parents and community members asked the district to consider hiring additional police officers.

To address concerns around policing, board president Sue Deigaard said she would form an ad-hoc committee to look more closely at HISD police practices with the goal of putting forward a resolution by the next meeting. She also acknowledged that with the uncertainty of how COVID-19 will affect local property taxes and state funding beyond 2021, the board will have to have more conversations around district priorities.

"We’ve got some really hard work ahead of us," she told trustees.