The San Antonio Independent School District board unanimously approved a compensation plan on Monday for the 2016-17 school year that includes pay raises for most district employees. Among other increases, the compensation plan will raise the lowest hourly wage, or “entry level wage,” for district employees from $10/hour to $12/hour.
In a press conference ahead of the board meeting COPS/METRO celebrated the proposed wage increase.
“We are here to celebrate and we are here to acknowledge that there is work to do,” said Shelley Potter, president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel.
The work refers to the advocacy group and COPS/Metro Alliance’s ultimate goal of a “living wage” of $15/hour, as the group originally requested in February. That proposal included a three-year plan to move from $13/hour for the 2016-17 school year up to $15/hour in 2018-19.
“Obviously $13/hour is where we would have liked to be,” Potter told the board.
The community organizing alliance has been in discussion with the board since their initial request in February. They reached an agreement with Superintendent Pedro Martinez to bring a one-year proposal to the board.
School finance in Texas is notoriously tenuous. With the Texas Legislature convening again in 2017, Martinez and the alliance agreed that it was prudent to wait for relevant legislation before committing to specific changes in the school budget.
“Regarding the wage increase, school districts play one part, and the other part (is the state, so it’s) going to be important for all of us to participate in ensuring that all of us raising our voices on a state level,” said Trustee Steve Lecholop (D1).
Current state funding levels place wages and programs in what feels like a zero sum game. The district however, remains committed to placing students first, and balancing the needs of their learning environment. Equitable funding would make this balance less tenuous for inner city schools.
“It shouldn’t be a binary choice to pay workers or fund a program,” Lecholop said.
The $3.2 million needed to fund the current proposal of $12/hour and compressed increases above that rate came from the district’s “scrubbing” of current budgets, according to Potter.
Technically SAISD could raise its tax rate from $1.04/$100 of property value to $1.17/$100. District officials stated that the district has no such plans at this time, but Martinez plans to increase operational efficiency to meet current needs, including the entry level wage increase.
District officials confirmed that increased efficiencies in staff allocation have yielded the necessary surplus to fund the increase. Staff reallocation includes “right-sizing” staff in schools with declining populations and overlapping programs, and reorganizing departments in the central office to reduce bureaucratic and program redundancies. All of this will improve the experience of students learning within continually improving and appropriately funded system, according to officials.
Martinez said he is committed to improving financial management across the district, making it possible to improve wages for district employees, and retain talent. When Martinez arrived to San Antonio in 2015, Walmart had recently approved a wage increase for workers, highlighting the need for a living wage. Martinez feels that SAISD employees should not be looking to the big box store as an improvement on their current situation.
“With all due respect to Walmart, I don’t want to compete with Walmart,” Martinez said.
COPS/METRO representative Maria Tijerina pointed out that this will also improve the living conditions of many SAISD students living in poverty.
“Many of the lowest paid SAISD employees have children in the district,” Tijerina said.
The compensation plan raises salaries for teachers, librarians, and nurses (not first year employees) by at least 2%. It includes a 2% pay increase based on pay-grade midpoint for all other full-time employees.
For the 586 employees below $12/hour, the proposed entry level pay increase will raise their salary 8%-20%. The 874 employees making between $12-$14/ hour will benefit from an adjusted increase as well.
As part of the proposed compensation package, the board also approved a $500 longevity stipend for district employees who have been with the district for more than 15 years, to be paid in January 2017.
Board members were most concerned with the districts plan to compete for top teaching talent. The compensation plan increases salaries for new teachers, librarians, and registered nurses from $50,000 to $51,500.
The district will have to continue to raise salaries as other, more well-resourced districts match and exceed more competitive salaries, said trustee Ed Garza (D7).
SAISD also includes other benefits such as Social Security benefits, and trustee James Howard (D2) wanted to ensure that those benefits were used as part of the recruitment of new teachers.
The current compensation plan increases the personnel budget by $8.3 million total. The total proposed budget for the 2016-17 budget currently reflects a deficit of $1.1 million, which the district has pledged to erase as they continually work through each department, looking for efficiencies.
“Our goal is that when we finalize the budget in June that we will break even,” Martinez said.
One cause for the deficit, explained Martinez, is the state’s method of reducing state funding when a district experiences increased revenue from property taxes. As values grow within SAISD due to development in the city’s core, it is likely that the district will continually see funding from the state decrease. The current budget reflects a $20 million decrease in state funds.
In spite of that, Martinez and the board remain confident of a balanced budget. Board President Patti Radle committed to further conversations with district employees seeking a living wage as they serve the district in the coming years.
Top image: Members of COPS/Metro Alliance along with at least one SAISD employee call for board approval of a wage increase package for SAISD employees. Photo by Scott Ball.