COPS /Metro called for a pay increase for approximately 2,000 of the lowest paid employees working for the San Antonio Independent School District before and during the SAISD board meeting on Tuesday night.
Currently the lowest wage paid in SAISD is $10 per hour, according to Rachel Martinez, executive vice president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel. The group wants to see an increase to a minimum hourly wage $13 in year one of a three-year path to a district-wide minimum hourly wage of $15, a “living wage.”
Representatives from the campaign have met with all seven board members and SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, and say that they feel encouraged by the agreement they have found.
“This board is anxious to pay decent wages to our employees,” said SAISD board President Patti Radle, in response to the group.
At the press conference, and again in the citizens to be heard portion of the board meeting, the group made two requests of the SAISD board. First, for a public commitment to the campaign, and second for research on the cost of moving to $13/hour in the next fiscal year.
“Once we understand the numbers, we can work with the board (and staff) to figure out a plan to move forward,” Rachel Martinez said. SAISD officials said they will begin to look into cost scenarios of such a policy.
The District and COPS/Metro will consider several scenarios of wage increase policies, ensuring that salaries and hourly rates are raised equitably for employees who have been with the district a long time, Potter said.
This campaign is a next step for the COPS/Metro, which has successfully advocated for higher wages for City, Bexar County and hospital district employees. Their partnership with the San Antonio Alliance made it logical to start with SAISD, and move on to other districts in the city, said Potter.
Vanita Rodriguez, a cafeteria manager, with SAISD spoke on behalf of some of the workers who would be affected by the raise.
“The current salaries that our cooks make is not enough to support their families,” said Rodriguez, “Everyone I know has to supplement.”
Rodriguez sees the struggles of her own family echoed in her staff. As the parent of seven and grandparent of 24, most of whom are SAISD students, she knows that children feel the pain of poverty.
“Each little face will tell you the story of their parents’ struggle,” Rodriguez said.
Maria Tijerina, co-chair of COPS/Metro, said that science backs up Rodriguez’s experience. The stress of poverty – living with hunger, noise, instability, absent parents, etc. – has a toxic effect on children’s developing brains, Tijerina said.
“This undermines a child’s ability to learn,” she said.
Since many SAISD employees have students in the district, these would be the first to benefit from the raise in wages.
A living wage is what is required to meet basic needs without assistance from public subsidies like public housing or food stamps. Currently anything less than $14.91, or 130% of the federal poverty level qualifies a family of four for food stamps, according to COPS/Metro materials. What is insufficient now, is not going to be sufficient tomorrow, according to COPS/Metro member Mary Grace Ketner. Wages must keep up with the cost of living.
“The cost of living in San Antonio is rising rapidly,” Ketner said.
In some parts of SAISD, near the city’s core and historical districts, this is especially true. Support staff could soon be priced out of the neighborhood where they work and send their children to school.
Many supporters stressed the value of the employees who will be affected by the raise.
“Let’s show our employees the respect they deserve,” Ketner said.
The board gave COPS/Metro the affirmation that they wanted to pursue a solution.
“We certainly want to continue the dialogue,” Radle said.
*Top image: COPS/Metro leader Maria Tijerina of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church speaks to the increased learning that occurs when children are in a stable household. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone