The SAISD school board as of May 13, 2019.
San Antonio Independent School District trustees approved a 2019-20 budget of more than $600 million – including $17.1 million in compensation increases. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Independent School District trustees approved a $618 million budget Monday night for the 2019-20 school year. The new budget includes at least a 3 percent pay increase for all positions, in line with the new State requirement from House Bill 3, the omnibus school finance bill.

The legislation gave Texas school districts a windfall – SAISD received $36.5 million in new funds from the law. The law requires districts to use 30 percent of new revenue on compensation increases.

At a news conference before the school board meeting, members of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel gathered to ask for a delay on the budget adoption vote.

SAISD’s deadline to pass a budget is June 30, for a July 1 fiscal year start. Alliance leaders asked for a 6 to 8 percent increase depending on the position and time employed by the district.

Alliance President Shelley Potter told those in attendance that she had felt positive about compensation negotiations occurring throughout the day with Superintendent Pedro Martinez but needed more time.

“We’d love to be able to start this school year with everybody on the same page,” Potter said. “We feel like we’re close and we can just get there, but we need a few more days to figure it out.”

San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel President Shelley Potter (center right) stands at a news conference along with members of the union to ask for a delay on the budget adoption vote. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Despite this request, trustees voted to approve a budget unanimously Monday night.

The newly approved budget accomplishes a long-running goal of the board to increase the minimum hourly wage to $15. Last year, as the district faced significant financial strains, SAISD trustees increased the hourly wage from $13 to $13.25. The goal for 2019-20 was to increase the wage to at least $14, but trustees exceeded this by $1 with the help of new State funds.

The budget also includes a $4.1 million increase in special education funding and puts $1.2 million more toward health insurance. Another new State law requires SAISD to increase its contribution toward the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. This will cost the district about $4.3 million in 2019-20. There’s also more money for a fine arts academy expansion, increased dual-credit opportunities, and investments in technology.

Trustees approved a 3 percent pay increase for all classroom teachers, nurses, librarians, and counselors with up to five years of experience and a 3.5 percent increase for the same positions with five or more years. The same increases would apply for campus support positions with the same years of experience.

All other full-time permanent employees would receive a 3 percent increase and all permanent full-time eligible employees with 15 years or more experience would receive a one-time $500 bonus in January.

The total cost of this compensation increase is estimated at $17.1 million.

At the last budget workshop, trustees asked Superintendent Martinez to identify more efficiencies in the budget so the district would break even or have a surplus. Since then, district officials found about $800,000 through energy savings and custodial and grounds efficiencies.

SAISD is one of several Texas school districts that faces a June 30 deadline to pass a budget. Edgewood and North East ISDs also start their fiscal year on July 1. Those two districts proposed 3 percent pay increases for teachers and other district staff.

The 2019-20 budget uses a new tax rate of $1.53095 per $100 of property value. Last year, the district’s tax rate was $1.5626. House Bill 3 resulted in a tax rate decrease of 11 cents, but district officials recommended increasing the reduced rate by 7 cents to support voter-approved debt from the 2016 bond. This increase was expected.

Trustees are expected to vote on this tax rate in mid-August.

Last year, SAISD faced a $31 million shortfall from declining enrollment. To save money, trustees approved layoffs for 132 teachers and 31 administrators. This, along with cost savings from attrition and a few other areas, helped SAISD bridge the shortfall. Going into the 2019-20 budgeting season, the district again expected a deficit, though a much smaller one: about $16 million.

Without the new State funds, the district might have had to lay off additional teachers, Superintendent Martinez said.

He pointed to a historic trend of declining enrollment as the reason SAISD continues to face constricted budgets. Next year, SAISD is projected to increase enrollment by about 100 students even though the district is planning to add approximately 1,300 new seats from new programs or campuses adding grades.

Trustees Steve Lecholop and Christina Martinez questioned how much they should trust this projection, given that enrollment dropped by about 2,000 students the previous school year. Martinez asked the superintendent to bring a marketing plan to the board in July with details on how SAISD plans to recruit students throughout the rest of the summer.

“If we can stabilize enrollment and start increasing our enrollment, I do believe, and I would recommend, those additional revenues [that come with the students] go to compensation,” Superintendent Martinez said.

To date, 72 percent of returning students have registered to enroll in SAISD next school year. This is up 2,000 students from last year at the same time, the superintendent said. That leaves about 14,000 students who have yet to register.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.