Central Texas districts to spend bulk, if not all, HB 3 money on teacher, staff raises

Austin American-Statesman |

Central Texas school districts will spend a bulk, if not all, of the additional money state lawmakers pumped into public education on boosting salaries for teachers and other school staff in the 2019-20 school year.

House Bill 3, a much-touted overhaul of the state's school finance system signed into law last month, directed an additional $6.5 billion to schools over the next two years. It required at least 30% of school districts' budget growth be spent on employee pay raises. At least nine of 13 Central Texas school districts surveyed by the American-Statesman said they will spend more than 30%, delivering historic raises to their staff starting as early as this month.

District officials said they will spend lavishly on salaries, which typically make up the largest part of school districts' budgets, to keep teachers, counselors, bus drivers, administrators and other employees from leaving to pursue higher pay in neighboring districts or the private sector. Because of differing salaries across the region and the fact that HB 3 gave school districts varying amounts of money, some districts will spend disproportionately more than others to keep salaries competitive.

"Bottom line, we want to attract and retain the best people we can and to be competitive with the market," said Kenneth Adix, Round Rock school district's chief financial officer. "We literally spent 100% of what was given to us on that goal."

The Round Rock school district will spend all $24 million it received from HB 3 on raises, in part to increase starting teacher salaries from $46,000, the lowest in the region, to $49,300, fourth highest in the region.

School districts will have to report to the Legislature by , on how they doled out raises.

Big raises

For most teachers, the raises are less than what lawmakers had proposed earlier this year. The Senate pitched mandating $5,000 pay bumps for teachers and librarians, and lawmakers eventually settled on a $4,000 increase to "compensation packages," which includes benefits, for teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses.

The Statesman analysis of Central Texas district raises for the 2019-20 school year found:

• School districts will increase the starting salary for teachers by an average of $2,157.

• Teachers entering their seventh year of teaching will receive an average raise of $2,936. HB 3 required districts to prioritize raises for full-time teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians with more than five years of experience.

• Teachers entering their 22nd year of teaching will receive an average raise of $2,986.

• Many school districts will spend additional money on benefit increases, including to keep insurance premiums from rising.

• Even with the raises, school district rankings in terms of teacher base pay will largely remain the same.

• Most school districts will extend raises to all personnel, from administrators to bus drivers.

• A majority of school districts reported that the raises will be the largest given in at least a decade.

Austin school officials spent more than double what HB 3 required them to spend on raises. Austin teachers with six or more years of experience received a 7% raise and those with five years of experience or less saw a 6% raise.

Nicole Conley Johnson, the Austin district's chief business and operations officer, said she hopes closing the pay gap with other districts will compel teachers to stay. Austin loses 600 to 800 teachers annually.

"We knew we had to focus on that singular priority and really try to close some of that gap," Conley Johnson said. "We went as far as we can go, in terms of applying all of our resources towards increasing salaries."

The district had hoped to boost salaries even more, but it must increase spending to the state's teacher retirement system, a new cost the district incurred under HB 3. Austin already contributes to Social Security, and it must continue to do so under state law.

The Eanes school district will spend $3.2 million more on employee compensation last year, much more than it received from HB 3. Because the district has a small number of students from low-income families, it received less money from HB 3 than other districts, just $1.9 million.

That has contributed to the district facing a $3.2 million deficit in the upcoming school year.

"When you are mandated to give 30% of that to staff salaries, then it lessens your net gain (from HB 3) even more. When you factor in now that we have to provide additional money to be competitive in salaries with our neighboring school district, it frankly puts us in a deficit spending situation," Eanes Deputy Superintendent Jeff Arnett said.

Retaining teachers

Several teachers told the Statesman they were grateful for the raises.

"That extra makes a difference, because I work long hours. We put in a lot of time outside the school day," said Cheryl Adedija, a 16-year educator who works as a reading specialist at Deer Park Middle School in the Round Rock district.

Andrea Pearson, who will be entering her 16th year of teaching, spends about $500 a year on supplies for her students. For a science experiment this year, for example, she purchased fake snow for her kindergarten class at Summitt Elementary School in Northwest Austin. The 7% raise she will receive in the upcoming school year will help pay for those costs.

"You treat your classroom kids like your own children, and you want to provide all these experiences and opportunities for them," Pearson said.

Anh Cao, a fellow veteran Summitt teacher who teaches Vietnamese, said she appreciates the raise, adding that the extra money will go toward day care costs for her 3-year-old twins. But she said she's not convinced the raises will attract more people to the profession, as lawmakers are hoping. Teachers still need to be revered -- and paid -- like engineers, doctors and lawyers, she said, to recruit more people into the field, and the raises don't do that.

Cao, who has considered pursuing higher pay at neighboring districts, said teachers stay at a district not just for the money, but also because of supportive campus administrators, quality programs and benefits.

"Because of the uniqueness of the program we have in Austin and the relationships we've built in the community, we stay. It's really about climate and culture," Cao said.

Ken Zarifis with Education Austin, which represents the interests of Austin district employees, said he believes retention will improve with long-term commitment by district officials.

"Retention is not a one year, or one pay raise fix," Zarifis said. "It takes a long-term plan of creating a district that teachers and other employees commit to for the long haul. That is the treatment of employees, that's benefits, that's continued pay increases. That's a call for AISD to be aggressive next year as well, not just go back to 1% or 2% pay increases."

Funding needs persist

School districts' decisions to spend more on salaries has meant less money that can be spent elsewhere, including on the requirements of HB 3, which is aimed at improving the education of low-income students and children up to the third grade, among other priorities.

Some districts might be in a bigger bind than others. Many districts, for example, have been spending their own money on offering prekindergarten for the full day, which is now required for eligible students under the bill.

"It depends on what they are already doing," said Monty Exter with the Association of Texas Professional Educators. "There are certainly requirements of the bill. ... If they have spent all of their money that they got on teacher pay raises, they are going to have budgeting problems when they have to pay for those requirements."

Eanes district officials worry about their bottom line in future years. Starting next school year, HB 3 requires school districts to limit property tax revenue growth to 2.5% a year.

Expenses in the future will grow by a pace much greater than 2.5%, district officials say.

"One point that is not being highlighted significantly is that while our state revenue is capped at 2.5% going forward, there is not a cap on the rise in health care costs, the cost of living for our teachers, nor does it cap the increased transportation costs and commute times for our staff," said Eanes Superintendent Tom Leonard said. "As we struggle to properly compensate our staff and remain competitive with other school districts, these increased costs will remain an issue for us."

___

(c)2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer

Comments

Watchlist

Symbol Last Price Change % Change
AAPL

     
AMZN

     
HD

     
JPM

     
IBM

     

INTERVIEW: CEO Jorge Fernandez - iBlades

Equities.com's Sam Mitchell interview iBlades CEO, Jorge Fernandez