The Fort Bend Federation of Teachers, a Fort Bend ISD affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers union that represents employees in the district, has called for safety and security and additional pay for its teachers.

During a June 10 press conference on the front lawn of the FBISD administration building, the union called for: raises to compensate teachers and staff, expectations that allow staff to have a work/life balance, safety and security, preserving teacher planning time, eliminating extra mandatory duties, capping student-teacher ratios and trusting teachers with their professionalism,” said Linda Morales, the president of the Fort Bend AFT.

“We are losing teachers to other districts; we’re losing our teachers to retiring; and we’re losing our teachers who are getting out of education altogether,” Morales said. “All of this comes down to respect.”

Teacher pay was one of the reasons, along with extra mandatory duties, larger classroom sizes and concerns about the inconsistent use and supply of personal protective equipment as to why FBISD special education and English language arts teacher Terri Verdone will be retiring after 31 years as an educator in Texas, she said.

“I’m taking retirement due to compensation,” she said. “Compensation in Fort Bend ISD is no longer competitive compared to surrounding districts,” Verdone said during the press conference. “HISD has committed to 11%. They pay $50 an hour for extra duty pay this last school year. They gave retention bonuses.”

The board of trustees approved compensation adjustments for teaching and nonteaching staff worth $14.7 million during its May 16 meeting. Starting in the 2022-23 school year, the district will increase the starting teacher pay by $1,000, from $58,500 to $59,500. That comes after the board previously approved an adjustment for newly hired teachers with between 26-40 years of experience so that they are paid based on their actual years of experience.

"Last year, FBISD gave our teachers average raises of 6% and 4% raises to nonteaching staff at a time when other districts offered lower increases," FBISD said in a statement to Community Impact Newspaper. "The district continues to look at ways to increase compensation in the next budget year. We would like to note that last year’s increases coupled with this year’s, provide raises of about 8% that equal or outpace what other local districts have offered. Our cumulative salary increases have also positively impacted retirement account contributions—something one-time bonuses don’t do."

However, according to the teachers, parents and community representatives who spoke during the press conference, that pay is not enough compared to surrounding school districts such as Houston ISD, which approved an 11% starting pay increase for the 2022-23 school year.

Safety and security were also large talking points during the press conference, with state Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, saying that while FBISD had done its part to address safety, the state of Texas needed to do its part through increased background checks, red flag laws and prohibiting the sale of semiautomatic rifles to anyone under the age of 21.

“We need some commonsense gun reforms,” Reynolds said during the press conference. “No, we’re not talking about taking away peoples’ second constitutional amendment right to bear arms, but we’re talking about commonsense gun reforms.”

The call to action comes in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde on May 24, when 19 students and two teachers were killed and 17 others were wounded.

FBISD, meanwhile, said during a June 8 update that of the nearly $993 million bond package approved by voters on Nov. 8, 2018, $14.9 million of that was allocated to safety and security upgrades and investments.

From that bond package, the district has so far installed 364 security cameras in special education classrooms throughout FBISD, installed additional impact-resistant window film at every campus and installed fencing to surround all portable classrooms at elementary school campuses. This is in addition to installing over 7,300 RhinoWare floor-mounted door locks in all classrooms that contain students.

"Fort Bend ISD greatly respects and appreciates the time, talents and energy our teachers and non-teaching staff members expend to educate and enrich our students," the district said in a statement. "Our staff is the backbone of our district, and we consistently work to improve working conditions, compensation and employee job satisfaction."

The press conference comes as the Fort Bend ISD board of trustees will look to approve the district’s fiscal year 2022-23 annual budget in June. According to district financial documents, the district faces a budget deficit of about $47 million out of its anticipated $768 million general fund.